It’s all over bar the actual network rollouts: Canada’s auction of 5G-enabling spectrum in the 600 megahertz (MHz) band raised $2.6 billion and awarded 104 licenses to nine Canadian companies, including 40 licenses to regional providers.
Bigger carriers dominated the proceedings. Rogers Communications emerged as the largest bidder, spending a whopping $1.3 billion on 52 licenses that have a duration of 20 years. The carrier is in the process of upgrading its infrastructure to support 5G technology in collaboration with network partner Ericsson, and it recently completed its first 5G data connection trial in Toronto.
Rival operator Telus said it spent $696 million on twelve 600 MHz licenses, noting that the spectrum is important because it can support 5G network deployment on a wide scale — a fairly vital requirement in a country such as Canada. The carrier also made use of the opportunity to criticize the structure of the auction, saying the fact that spectrum was set aside for new players “effectively amounted to a subsidy for certain well-capitalized cable companies.”
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada sees things somewhat differently, however. It says the new players will improve wireless coverage, “and foster a competitive wireless market in support of lower prices.”
Somewhat surprisingly, BCE decided to sit this one out and did not buy any of the 600 MHz licenses on offer. It said it already has spectrum assets in the low-, mid-, and high-frequency bands in both urban and rural locations.
“Given the supply of other low-band spectrum that Bell already possesses, 600 MHz is not required for Bell to deliver broadband 4G and 5G services,” the carrier said, also pointing to the fact that some of its main U.S. peers chose not to buy 600 MHz spectrum.
Bell clearly has its sights set on the upcoming auctions of 3.5 GHz and millimetre wave spectrum that it insists will be required to build 5G networks. As things stand, the 3.5 GHz auction is scheduled for 2020.
Other winners in the 600 MHz auction include the companies Bragg, Freedom, Iris, SaskTel, TBayTel, Videotron, and Xplornet.
While Rogers has partnered with Ericsson for its 5G network, Telus and Bell have been using some equipment from China-based Huawei, which for reasons that now hardly need explaining is now a controversial choice for 5G networks in Canada as well as other markets around the world.
According to reports back in February, Telus warned that its 5G rollout plans could be set back if Canada’s government did decide to exclude Huawei from 5G. Bell has appeared more sanguine, however, saying a ban would not delay its 5G plans. Ericsson and Nokia have also been cited as possible 5G network suppliers to the carrier.