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Hammer finally comes down on Portugal spectrum licence auction

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Regulator promises exciting competition across the spectrum

The 5G race is on in Portugal’s mobile industry as the multi frequency spectrum flag has been waved by Anacom, the official regulator. The organiser has welcomed new players into the competition and hinted that this contest will be more open to innovation. 

In the last week of October Anacom’s head Joao Cadete said the long-running 5G licences auction was over and the positions had been decided. The race to develop high performance models that can cover the whole Portugese course with speed, responsiveness and durability can begin, once a few administrative ceremonies have been completed. 

New competitors, faster pace  

Portugal’s spectrum auction took 200 days and it is one of the last European Union countries to begin its commercial 5G rollout out, with Belgium and Lithuania still to get going.

The waiting is finally over, the Portuguese regulator told an excited crowd of industry stakeholders, the admin won’ take much longer.

"It will be quick,” Cadete told Reuters, “maybe a few weeks.” The auction will herald an influx of much needed new competitors in Portugal whose mobile sector is an oligopoly dominated by three players. There are two news players: Nowo, owned by Spain's Masmovil, and Dixarobil, part of the Romanian group Digi, bought licences in the auction. They join other 5G licence purchasers NOS, Altice (operating as MEO in Portugal) and Vodafone.

What will Digi and Nowo bring to the market?

Telecom operator Dense Air won a 5G licence too but will only operate in the wholesale mobile market.

Cadete said that the addition of new operators might have a competitive effect on a market where prices and offers are ‘fully aligned’ between ‘dominating players’.

The delays in the auction were caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The auction of several spectrum lots was launched by Ancom in January and had been legally challenged from the three main players who complained – Nos, Altice and Vodafone - that the rules unfairly favoured new entrants – Nowo and Dixrobil.

Who got what?

Newcomer Dixarobil paid €67.34 million for frequency use rights in the bands 900 MHz (2x5 MHz), 1800 MHz (2x5 MHz), 2.6 GHz (2x5 MHz FDD and 25 MHz TDD), 3.6 GHz (40MHz).

NOS paid €165m for the biggest share of the spectrum. It is now licensed for 100MHz in the 3.6GHz band and 2x10MHz in the 700MHz band. It also acquired 2x5MHz in the 2100MHz band and 2x2MHz at 900MHz band which, it says will reinforce its 4G network and improve its quality of service across the country.

Vodafone Portugal paid €38.4 million for 700MHz spectrum (2x10MHz) and €94.8 million, for 90MHz at 3.6GHz.

MEO spent €125.23m on spectrum in multiple bands (700MHz, 900MHz, 2.1GHz and 3.6GHz).

Anacom has allocated frequency usage rights for the provision the 450 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2.1 GHz and 2.6 GHz frequency bands. Its web site details the allocation here.