On October 31, 2018, the Spanish prime minister announced plans to auction the 700MHz band in 1Q19. The EU has been pushing for a coordinated approach to assigning this spectrum to wireless broadband by 2020 (with the option of extending this by two years), to ensure that the benefits of 5G services can be realized. Spain will be only the fifth member state to do so, leaving more than 20 still to go. It seems unlikely that all these member states will meet the deadline, which will cause harmonization issues.
While Spain pushes ahead with allocating more 5G spectrum, many other EU member states continue to lag behind
Spain is expected to be the fifth EU member state to auction the 700MHz band, behind Germany, France, Finland, and Italy. This band is currently used for digital terrestrial television in Spain, but is expected to be freed up by March 2020 for use by mobile services to help harmonize the frequency band with the other EU member states. Broadcasting services have only held these licenses since 2014 when they were moved from the 800MHz band during the first digital dividend. The plan is to allocate 694–790MHz to wireless services and use the 470–694MHz frequencies for broadcasting.
The auction of the 700MHz band in 1Q19 will be the country's second 5G auction. The previous one, held in July 2018, saw spectrum in the 3.6–3.8GHz band sold for €437.6m ($495.8m). This auction far exceeded the €100m starting price established by the regulator, and it is expected that the 700MHz auction will generate a similar amount of interest from operators. The band will be particularly attractive to operators because it creates an opportunity to deliver faster mobile broadband by facilitating the rollout of 5G, and can also cover much larger geographical areas than higher bands. This should improve coverage to rural areas. Additionally, the band could initially be used to meet 4G demand if needed – improving coverage and take-up.
The combination of frequencies in the 700MHz band and the 3.6–3.8GHz band will go some way toward preparing operators for next-generation mobile networks in Spain. However, many EU member states are lagging behind, and some have already indicated that they are likely to miss the harmonization target date of June 30, 2020. More than 20 countries still need to auction the 700MHz band. To ensure the successful launch of 5G that will rely on spectrum such as the 700MHz band, there will need to be greater cross-border coordination. The lack of a coordinated timetable for the release of 4G frequencies gave rise to delays and lower deployment levels across the EU, so it will be critical not to repeat the same mistake.
Spain (Country Regulation Overview), GLB005-000023 (March 2018)
"Award of 3.6–3.8GHz band in Spain allows operators to prepare for 5G launch in 2020," GLB005-000070 (August 2018)
Sarah McBride, Analyst, Regulation