Bulgaria plans to offer 5G frequencies by June

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria plans to offer frequencies for 5G wireless networks by the middle of 2020, the head of the telecoms regulator said on Tuesday.

Bulgaria and other European countries are preparing to launch 5G services, which allow high-speed data downloads, and the EU targets having an operational 5G network in at least one city in each member state by the end of next year.

Bulgaria’s telecoms regulator plans to open procedures to grant frequencies in the 700 MHz and 3,600 MHz bands in the second quarter of 2020, Ivan Dimitrov, head of the Communication Regulation Commission, told an industry forum.

Prices are yet to be unveiled, but the regulator, backed by the transport ministry, has proposed that the government approve a 30% to 50% reduction in frequencies fees as of next year to help 5G rollout.

“The idea is to find the proper balance - to pay enough for the frequencies but also have enough funds left to invest in the necessary infrastructure for 5G,” Dimitrov said.

Leading telecom operator Vivacom, as well as A1, part of Austria’s A1 Group controlled by Mexico’s America Movil and Telenor Bulgaria, owned by Czech investment group PPF, have all started 5G trials.

But for 5G rollout, which would require an estimated investment of about 800 million levs ($453 million) over the next three to four years, the telecoms operators say they need to see lower frequencies fees and less bureaucracy for new infrastructure permits.

The three telecoms operators are also likely to seek an eventual cooperation to share the costly investment. Vivacom’s Chief Executive Atanas Dobrev said on Tuesday that network sharing should be encouraged and expected.

Telenor Bulgaria’s CEO Jason King sees cooperation as an option.

“Nothing has been conclusive yet, but when you have very expensive technology and a very mature market and you want to bring services that are palatable to the consumer, you have to find potentially different alterative ways to do it,” King said.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Susan Fenton