Finland is to renew mobile licences in the 900 MHz, 1800 MHz and 2100 MHz bands by a beauty contest later this year. Based on the draft award documentation the most likely objective is to renew the licences in the hands of their current owners almost as they are currently, with some additional twist on coverage obligations and technology options. Each of the band is to consist of three licences with exactly the same frequency slots as currently.
900 MHz/licences A – C/1 January 2020 – 31 December 2033:
A: 880.1 – 891.7 MHz & 925.1 – 936.7 MHz (currently held by DNA)
B: 891.9 – 903.3 MHz & 936.9 – 948.3 MHz (currently held by Telia)
C: 903.5 – 914.9 MHz & 948.5 – 959.9 MHz (currently held by Elisa)
1800 MHz/licences D – F/1 January 2020 – 31 December 2033:
D: 1710.1 – 1734.9 MHz & 1805.1 – 1829.9 MHz (currently held by Telia)
E: 1735.1 – 1759.9 MHz & 1830.1 – 1854.9 MHz (currently held by DNA)
F: 1760.1 – 1784.9 MHz & 1855.1 – 1879.9 MHz (currently held by Elisa)
2100 MHz/licences G – I/19 March 2019 – 31 December 2033:
G: 1920.3 – 1940.1 MHz & 2110.3 – 2130.1 MHz (currently held by Elisa)
H: 1940.1 – 1959.9 MHz & 2130.1 – 2149.9 MHz (currently held by DNA)
I: 1959.9 – 1979.7 MHz & 2149.9 – 2169.7 MHz (currently held by Telia)
The new licences are to include some specific roll-out obligations. First, the networks in the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands must cover 99% of the population in mainland Finland by 2 January 2020. This obligation is, however, included in the current licences and all the networks meet the obligation already; thus no extra burden. In addition, there is a new requirement saying that the networks must cover all the highways and main roads in mainland Finland (basically all the roads excluding private and forest roads). Finally, while the licences are technology neutral, there is a specific clause to protect GSM users: the networks must provide GSM service to 99% of the population at least until an interim review by the ministry in 2023. Network sharing is allowed as long as an operator’s own network covers at least 35% of the obligation.
Roll-out obligations and other terms in the 2100 MHz band are rather similar as those in the other bands. The key differences are that the deadline for fulfilling the coverage obligation is 20 March 2020 and, more importantly, coverage built or used by an operator at other mobile bands counts towards the target. In other words, there is no band-specific coverage obligation. Naturally, there is no GSM obligation in this band.
Use of a beauty contest as an award mechanism can be regarded as an old-fashioned choice but it is dictated by the Information Society Code; auctions are to be used for awarding new mobile bands only. The intention is to start the award process later this year. The draft award documentation published by the Ministry of Transport and Communications of Finland on 21 September 2018 is available at https://www.lvm.fi/-/lausuntokierros-taajuuksien-toimilupaehdoista-984312.
There is a parallel on-going ministry-led process to amend a government decree regarding the mix of allowed technologies in these bands. The objective is to enable use of 5G in all of these bands and exclude Wimax from the list of options. In consequence, 5G is to be allowed also at the low-frequency bands that certainly helps in building 5G coverage. This may be reflected in the fact that coverage obligations were dropped from the 3.5 GHz licences the auction of which started yesterday.