5G spectrum auction concludes; Bell, Rogers and Telus bag the most licenses

5G spectrum auction concludes; Bell, Rogers and Telus bag the most licenses

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Twenty-two Canadian carriers collectively paid over C$2.1 billion for a record 4,099 licenses in the 3800 MHz spectrum auction. 

Bell, Rogers and Telus won the majority of the licenses. Telus acquired 1,430 licenses for around C$619 million, Bell won 939 licenses for around C$518 million, and Rogers won 860 for around C$474 million. Together, the Big Three carriers accounted for 76 per cent of the total amount raised.

During the 3500 MHz auction in 2021, carriers paid over $8.9 billion for 3,431 licenses, but the government only assigned a small amount of spectrum (200MHz) which limited spectrum access to only the biggest players, who, in turn, drove the valuation to record numbers.

This time, however, the government set a 100 MHz spectrum limit on how much combined 3500 MHz and 3800 MHz spectrum a provider could acquire, effectively reserving spectrum for smaller competitors and lowering prices.

Montreal-based carrier Cogeco, for instance, acquired 99 licenses for C$190 million this time around, compared to 38 for C$295 million in the last auction.

The company said it now has spectrum covering 100 per cent of its Canadian broadband footprint, and is preparing to launch mobile operations via the newly established mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) regime, provided it obtains satisfactory rates for wholesale access to the networks of the major players.

Eastlink, which also registered as an MVNO, netted 187 licenses for about C$10 million.

Additionally, Vidéotron paid about C$300 million to acquire 305 licenses in the 3800 MHz band.

The company said it plans to strengthen its presence outside of Quebec, as 61 per cent of the 305 blocks of wireless spectrum it acquired are located mainly in southern Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

Québecor also bought spectrum in Manitoba, where it now holds a total of 46 blocks in the 600, 3500 and 3800 MHz bands, as it prepares to enter that market.

3800 and 3500 MHz are typically complementary mid-band spectrum frequencies that provide speed and capacity, Rogers explained in a release. 600 MHz is low-band 5G spectrum that carries wireless data across long distances and through dense urban buildings. The combination creates consistent and reliable 5G coverage in both urban and remote areas.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) said that licenses in the 3800 MHz band will include strong deployment obligations that require companies to “use or lose” the spectrum within ambitious timelines, so that Canadian consumers, including those in remote regions, can benefit from the latest wireless technologies.

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