The long saga of the 5G spectrum auction shows no sign of happy resolution as the process gets underway.
The Czech Telecommunications Office (CTU) has began a tender process to award spectrum in the 700MHz and the 3.4–3.6GHz bands – and two blocks of 10 MHz of the 700MHz band reserved for a new entrant.
The auction was meant to take place late last year, but was delayed by the government and rescheduled for January this year.
This was in part because the European Commission blocked a network sharing agreement between the Czech opcos of Telefonica and Deutsche Telekom on the grounds it, “restricts competition in breach of European Union antitrust rules”.
The Commission’s own grasp of competition rules has been questioned by the General Court of the European Court in two landmark decisions earlier this year.
Also, the government wanted more time to attract a fourth mobile operator to entire the market, as consumer and politicians constantly complain of high prices due to a lack of competition.
In January, the head of the Czech Republic’s telecoms watchdog resigned over last-minute changes by the government to the country’s planned 5G auction, which was published on Twitter.
In it, Jaromir Novak, the outgoing regulator, said that changes to the conditions of the Czech Telecommunication Office’s 5G auction could slow 5G’s roll-out and potentially lead to legal disputes.
He was concerned about the government’s emphasis on national roaming, which would allow consumers to switch between providers in the 3.5GHz band. He argued that the frequency cannot be used throughout the country.
“I cannot sign under auction conditions that in my deep conviction will not improve the competitive environment in the Czech market,” he wrote.
Lack of interest
Minister Karel Havlicek said the modifications were due to low interest from bidders domestically and overseas, Reuters reported.
Vodafone, Telefonica, and Deutsche Telekom are against a fourth mobile operator, but terms attached to the licences that are up for grabs restrict the amount of spectrum held by each operator.
Also, they have to provide national roaming to provide coverage for the newcomer while they build out 5G infrastructure.
Vodafone said in a statement: “Given the mistakes and problems in the conditions, it can be expected that the auction will result in clashes at courts and also the European Commission”.