Norway raises $445 million from 5G spectrum sale

The auction of 5G spectrum in Norway has drawn to a close, with the state raising the best part of half a billion dollars in the process.

Four companies together agreed to pay 3.89 billion kroner (US$445.5 million) for licences in the 2.6 GHz and 3.6 GHz bands in an auction process that lasted just a few days, the Norwegian Communications Authority (Nkom) announced.

It began on Monday, which coincidentally was the same day that Portugal brought in new rules to try to speed up progress in its never-ending multi-band spectrum auction; the 2.6 GHz and 3.6 GHz bands form part of that sale too. Monday marked the 180th day of bidding in the Portuguese sale and by the close of play on Wednesday the running total had crept up to just €384.4 million. But that’s another story.

In Norway, three of the four auction winners chose to take the regulator up on its offer of a price discount in return for a commitment to providing high-speed broadband in rural areas. Specifically, bidders were asked to pledge to provide broadband services offering download speeds of at least 100 Mbps and between them they secured a price break of 480 million kroner ($55 million) as a result.

Those three players are the market’s dominant operators Telenor and Telia, and broadband and TV provider Altibox.

Telenor and Telia both bid in excess of NOK1 billion for frequencies across both bands. Incumbent Telenor was the contest’s biggest spender, racking up a NOK1.42 billion bill, reduced to NOK1.22 billion after the discount. Telia’s final total came in at NOK910.35 million once the discount was applied.

Altibox’s post-discount price came to NOK724.48 million, primarily for spectrum in the 3.6 GHz range, but also including a lot of TDD frequencies at 2.6 GHz.

The fourth spectrum winner was Norway’s third mobile operator Ice, which secured 3.6 GHz airwaves for NOK553.96 million.

The operators acquired all the available spectrum, that is, 190 MHz in the 2.6 GHz band and 400 MHz in the 3.6 GHz band.

“The assignment of the 2.6 GHz and the 3.6 GHz bands is an important step towards the government goal of high-speed broadband being made available to all households and businesses in Norway,” Nkom said, highlighting the role the rural broadband commitment will play in achieving that goal.

“Furthermore, winning bidders will be required to provide 5G services in the 3.6 GHz band to industry and other relevant verticals,” the regulator added.

The auction is particularly significant for Altibox, whose business has in recent years centred on the rollout of fibre, but will now be able to add 5G mobile services to its arsenal. In an announcement following the conclusion of the auction, Altibox said it will initially use the spectrum acquired to provide 5G-based fixed wireless services, but will “eventually” launch other 5G services. It expects to bring fixed wireless services to market in the first half of next year, it said.

The company is naturally upbeat in its tone, talking up its entrance into the 5G market, but it seems unlikely that it is positioning itself to become Norway’s fourth MNO. Stranger things have happened, but for now, Altibox seems to be sticking to its core market.

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