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Brazil finally gets its 5G act together

Brazil’s long-awaited auction of spectrum for 5G mobile services is finally underway.

If it feels like a long time since Nokia predicted that Brazil would soon hold the biggest 5G auction ever, that’s because it is. It was summer 2019 when the Finnish vendor’s chief technology officer in Latin America Wilson Cardoso made such a comment to Reuters that was subsequently excitedly re-reported across the industry.

At that time we were expecting the auction to take place in the first quarter of 2020, but a series of delays ensued. To cut a long story short, we’re talking red tape and bickering over auction rules, as well as some controversy over the involvement of the Chinese vendors, rather than a Covid-related delay.

Regulator Anatel finally got its ducks in a row in September, announcing that the sale would begin on 4 November…and here we are. 15 companies – including big three mobile operators Telefonica, TIM and America Movil – submitted the relevant paperwork late last month and the bids will be opened in the coming days. The auction, as Anatel is calling it, is likely to be a two-day process, with the spectrum being carved up differently in a second round if necessary; essentially, if national licences fail to attract a winning bid, they could be separated into regional licences.

Spectrum is up for grabs in the 700 MHz, 2.3 GHz, 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz bands.

Anatel did not say when it will post results, but watch this space. It is not likely to take too long, given that Brazil is now lagging many major global markets by some margin when it comes to 5G spectrum allocation.

Whether Nokia’s ‘biggest ever’ prediction proves accurate is perhaps more unlikely now than it was two-plus years ago. We have after all had many spectrum auctions in the interim, including the infamous C-band sale in the US that raised US$81 billion plus relocation costs. Nonetheless, Brazil has high hopes.

Minimum prices for spectrum come in at about 10 billion reais, but capex projections also form part of the operators’ bid. Reuters puts the total figure the government expects to raise at BRL45 billion (US$8 billion) and reports $1.27 billion was spent on the first day.

The sale itself may not bring in sufficiently eye-watering sums as to capture international headlines, but this process is a big deal for the Brazilian mobile market and its close to 250 million mobile subscribers.

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