Ofcom approves Qualcomm’s spectrum sale to Vodafone, Three

Flogging L-band to someone who might use it is A Good Thing


As expected, Ofcom has now rubber-stamped the L-band deal which saw Qualcomm sell a portion of its spectrum to Vodafone and Three, publishing a statement on the matter.

Vodafone has bought the 1452-1472MHz frequencies, and (the soon-to-be-merged-with-O2) Three's spectrum at 1472-1492MHz.

Spectrum is a touchy subject, but this must have been one of the easiest decisions ever for the UK regulator. Indeed, when it put out a public consultation on the sale it only got one response – of the opinion that selling spectrum to someone who might actually use it was A Good Thing. So that's unanimous then.

Ofcom looked at how fit and proper Voda and Three were to buy the spectrum and concluded that both companies seemed to know what they were doing with the spectrum they already had, so purchase away.

More interestingly, the regulator looked at how it affected the allocation of spectrum between the operators.

Unusually, it deemed 1400MHz as “low frequency”, more akin to 800MHz and 900MHz than the 1800MHz and 2600MHz bands, although EE's total spectrum holding is so much greater than that of Vodafone, and more than twice that of Three, that it’s not going to distort the market.

When BT merges with EE the combined company will have even more of a holding – and when O2 and Three merge the shares will all be roughly equal.

Nobody has shown much interest in L-band in the past, and its main use is likely to be as an aggregated carrier to provide more 4G bandwidth. However, recently both CEPT, the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations, and the GSMA have highlighted L-band as being a useful frequency for global use.

None of the parties involved in the sale will say quite how much the spectrum went for. Qualcomm paid £8.3m, but when – the day before the official announcement – we said more than £100m, one person who claims to know details of the deal told us Vodafone and Three paid more than £100m each. ®


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