Irish regulator takes legal route to speed up 5G auction

Ireland’s telecoms regulator has lodged a legal challenge to a recent court ruling that could mean delays in the allocation of 5G spectrum.

ComReg this week revealed that it has submitted a filing to Ireland’s Court of Appeal late last month in a bid to have a court-ordered stay removed from the country’s ongoing spectrum allocation process.

It’s the latest salvo fired in a battle started by Three Ireland, which has taken issue with the format of a multi-band spectrum auction that should be taking place right now, the rules for which were laid out by ComReg at the back end of 2020. In a nutshell, the operator believes that the combinatorial clock format proposed by the regulator would put it at a competitive disadvantage and has challenged the decision. While waiting for the outcome of that challenge, it also petitioned the High Court for a stay on the auction process, a request the court granted on 21 July, according to ComReg.

That date was four days before the regulator had planned to kick off the auction.

ComReg naturally hit back with its aforementioned appeal. It notes that the appeal will be heard on 19 October, so regardless of the outcome, there will be a delay in the allocation of spectrum. As such, the regulator is mulling the issue of temporary licences in the 2.1 GHz band – spectrum to be awarded there was due to the expiry of existing concessions in October – and potentially in other bands that were to be included in the sale.

“ComReg is unable to comment any further at this time as to when it will be able to issue long-term spectrum rights of use in these important spectrum bands,” the regulator said, in response to the stay notification a fortnight ago. Presumably it is still in the same position.

The regulator had planned to auction off 470 MHz of frequencies in the 700 MHz, 2.1 GHz, 2.3 GHz and 2.6 GHz bands, which it noted would be key for operators to make advancements in 4G services as well as facilitating the rollout of 5G offerings.

Now it is warning that this legal tussle will have serious implications for 5G deployment in Ireland.

The Irish Independent noted that in its opposition of Three’s stay request, the regulator insisted that the auction should go ahead as planned to ensure a timely 5G rollout and to ensure that Ireland meets EU targets. Sounds just like the sort of thing a regulator would say.

There will be more legal wrangling to come in this story. ComReg will have to work at the speed of the courts now as it seeks to push on with its spectrum allocation process. The wheels of justice rarely turn at pace.


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