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Masmovil wins Portugal newcomer spectrum

Portugal has concluded the first part of its latest spectrum auction and it appears Masmovil has come out on top and will therefore become the country’s new mobile network operator.

Anacom announced the completion of phase one of the spectrum sale earlier this week, but did not divulge the identity of the winner, or indeed winners. The regulator simply said the auction of three 5 MHz blocks of 1800 MHz spectrum and one block of 900 MHz frequencies had raised €84.35 million after eight days of bidding.

Our interest was piqued due to the activity in the 1800-MHz band. While the single lot of 900 MHz spectrum sold for the reserve price of €30 million, there was clearly some competition for the 1800 MHz airwaves. The lots carried a reserve price of just €4 million, but each ended up more than four times higher at €18.12 million.

Given that the spectrum was reserved for a new market entrant, that is highly noteworthy.

As a quick recap, the regulator last year made the decision to reserve some 900 MHz and 1800 MHz for a newcomer last year, incurring the wrath of established MNOs Vodafone, Meo and Nos, who believed the licensing conditions to be unfair. In particular, the expressed concerns over price breaks on spectrum for a new player and requirements to allow that player to roam onto their networks. Such was their ire that the regulator reconsidered – to an extent – and altered the pricing structure for the spectrum, but the big guns continued to complain about state aid and pledged to continue to challenge the rules, including through litigation. Nonetheless, the auction got underway in December.

While the telcos debated the rights and wrongs of the auction rules, industry watchers speculated over the likelihood of a new market entrant.

The name most commonly in the frame was Masmovil, owner of Portuguese cable operator Nowo and business service provider ONI. Nowo already operates as an MVNO in Portugal, but with a market share of just 2% as of the end of Q3, according to Anacom’s data, was hardly a threat to the big three; to add context, Nos is the smallest of the three with a 26.4% market share, while leader Nos claims in excess of 40%.

Until now, that is.

Spanish newspaper Expansion has named Masmovil as the winner of the 1800 MHz frequencies, which will allow it to become a fully-fledged operator. And with its bigger rivals required to provide network access for as much as 10 years, it stands a good chance of making its presence felt.

But, presuming its information is correct, what of the competition it faced for the frequencies?

Portugal’s Expresso speculates that a companies interested in using the spectrum for Internet of Things (IoT) purposes were bidding for the spectrum, one of whom emerged victorious. However, the news outlet believes Nowo was barred from taking part in this part of the auction, being an existing player. It seems more likely that Expansion’s information is correct, and that as a player without existing spectrum assets, Masmovil was permitted to participate. The suggestion that its competition came from an IoT player seems highly plausible though.

We will have to wait for a formal announcement from the regulator to be certain of the outcome. In the meantime, the big guns are set to battle it out for 5G spectrum via an auction of 58 lots of frequencies in the 700 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2.1 GHz, 2.6 GHz and 3.6 GHz bands that is due to get started in the coming days.

Doubtless everyone – the telcos included – will have more to say on the matter once that process concludes.


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