Vodafone is set for an extended period as New Zealand's only 5G provider.
MBIE has quietly shelved the auction the first 5G spectrum auction, which Spark was relying on to hit its July 1 start-date for its first mobile 5G service (Spark launched fixed-wireless 5G service in a series of small South Island towns late last year, while Vodafone launched 5G in parts of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown in December, and has a wide-ranging 5G fixed-wireless launch slated for later this year). 2degrees has yet to set a timetable for its 5G upgrade.
The first auction had been due to kick off on March 30.
An MBIE spokesman confirms it has now been delayed. "We've don't yet have a resumption date," he says.
The lockdown means that Vodafone and Spark have put their respective 5G rollouts on hold.
"While we remain committed to investing in next-generation mobile technology, we are not upgrading cell sites to 5G during lockdown."
"The health and safety of Vodafone staff is incredibly important, so the only onsite work we're undertaking during lockdown is to enable Kiwis to stay connected to essential phone or internet services - such as network repair work or to boost capacity in certain areas via essential 4G upgrades or deploying cows (cell sites on wheels).
Yesterday, in a market update, Vodafone NZ's 50 per cent owner Infratil said it was revewing "all uncommitted and discretionary operating and capital expenditure." It noted Vodafone would take a hit from the evaporation of global roaming revenue while borders remain all-but-closed, and said Vodafone NZ's forecast full-year ebitda is now expected to be towards the lower-end of its guidance range of $460-$490m.
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As things stand, Vodafone is the only telco with a substantial holding of spectrum suitable for 5G (Spark is using spectrum leased from UK company Dense Air - which in November 2018 paid $25.7m to acquire a 70MHz chunk of 2.5GHz spectrum from Craig Wireless and rich lister Malcolm Dick's Blue Reach Wireless - for its South Island fixed-wireless 5G pilot.
Once it does get underway, the first 5G auction will see two-year licenses for 3.5GHz spectrum on the block.
The licences will be temporary to give Communications Minister Kris Faafoi breathing room to resolve a long-standing iwi claim on airwaves.
Faafoi is angling for the auction of long-term licences, and the addition of millimetre bands that will allow faster 5G, at a round of full-blood auctions that will - ideally - take place before the end of 2022.
The parameters for the 3.5GHz auction originally scheduled for this month gave a clear indication of Faafoi's thinking.
MBIE says will be a total of 16 lots available covering the frequency range from 3.59 to 3.75 GHz, or 160MHz total. Each lot will be 10MHz, with a reserve price of $250,000 - meaning the Government will reap a minimum $4m.
That's chump-change compared to the 4G bonanza.
Faafoi's emphasis is on boosting market competition, after provision for Māori interests.
No single player will be able to bid more for more than 40MHz, or four lots - although there will be scope to bid for more if any lots go unsold.
And a 50MHz block will be reserved for iwi to use for increasing access to mobile broadband (although with no restriction about onselling to a telco should a side-deal be reached).
That means once things eventually get underway, there will be no bidding frenzy a la the 4G auction in 2014, when a $22m reserve was smashed in the final round of bidding and the Crown realised $259m as Spark spent a total $149m, Vodafone $66m and 2degrees $44m.