February 27, 2019 / 2:48 PM / a year ago

Czech telecoms regulator to launch 5G auction bidding in November

* Regulator CTU wants 5G bidding to start in November

* Main aim is attracting new entrant, boosting competition

* Czech data prices among highest in Europe

By Jason Hovet

PRAGUE, Feb 27 (Reuters) - The Czech telecoms regulator CTU aims to launch an auction of next-generation 5G frequencies in early November, seeking to attract a fourth new operator to boost competition in a market among the most expensive for customers in Europe.

CTU is in the later stages of planning and has already submitted the main auction setup to the government, which should discuss it next month before public consultations likely to start in April.

CTU Chairman Jaromir Novak said on Wednesday the auction would be deemed a success if it attracted a fourth operator to the market to compete with incumbents O2 Czech Republic , T-Mobile and Vodafone.

“The main goal is promoting competition on the Czech market,” he said in an interview.

A European Commission study on mobile broadband prices in February showed the Czech Republic and Cyprus had the most expensive data prices in Europe - long a complaint of customers.

Novak said while past frequency auctions have failed to bring a newcomer into the market, this time was different.

“The time is changing and I am not sure Czech operators realise it,” he said. “When you compare prices across Europe, you really see people are starving for data in the Czech Republic.”

CTU plans conditions in the auction of 700 MHz and 3.4 GHz bands to help ease a new entrant, including reserving one block in the 700 MHz band for newcomers to bid, preventing incumbents from driving up prices.

It will also provide a regulatory safety net for a new operator, obliging incumbents to allow the new competitor to use their networks while building its own, provided the first entrant first covers 10 percent of the population itself.

He added the cost model and time limits - of five to six years - were still under discussion.

“We are confident with the conditions,” he said. “We would like to call the tender in the summer and start the bidding procedures in the beginning of November. It is an optimistic scenario.”

Others in Europe are also starting the rollout of fifth-generation networks. Germany is launching its auction in March.

It comes as the continent becomes the main battleground in a U.S. campaign to rid Western networks of Chinese telecoms equipment, with Washington accusing Huawei Technologies of spying for Beijing, allegations the company has repeatedly denied.

Some mobile operators have warned a blanket ban could delay new 5G connections by years.

The Czech cyber watchdog in December warned of potential dangers in using technology from Huawei or Chinese firm ZTE, putting it ahead of others in the fight.

The warning, though, does not mean any direct ban on using Huawei products, but makes the country’s 160 operators of critical infrastructure carry out risk analyses and act accordingly. It also allows the operators to exclude Huawei from procurement if they find it is needed.

Novak did not expect any direct impact on the auction. “We don’t need to put something special in the auction,” he said. (Reporting by Jason Hovet; editing by David Evans)

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