Coronavirus sees New Zealand 5G early access auction binned for direct allocation

Spark and 2degrees get 60MHz each, with Dense Air offered 40MHz.

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New Zealand 'Beehive'

Image: Chris Duckett/ZDNet

New Zealand has directly allocated and offered 160MHz of its 3.5GHz spectrum to three companies in the country, following the cancellation of its planned auction process due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As a result, Spark and 2degrees have been offered 60MHz each, with UK-based spectrum player Dense Air offered 40MHz.

The early-access rights will run until the end of October 2022, after which the scheme will switch to long-term rights that will be gained in a separate auction process.

The government previously said there was no guarantee that short-term rights would provide long-term access.

New Zealand telco Spark welcomed its allocations and said 5G would play a critical role in the nation's response and recovery from COVID-19.

"Securing 3.5GHz spectrum was critical for the rollout of a full suite of 5G services, so we would like to acknowledge the government for facilitating the allocation, which will enable us to proceed with our planned 5G rollout at pace," Spark CEO Jolie Hodson said.

"We plan to switch on 5G sites in a number of major centres and regions across the North and South islands over the next year. To maintain this momentum, we are keen to work with government to accelerate the timeline for the longer-term spectrum auction, which is currently scheduled for November 2022."

Fellow telco 2degrees said the decision made sense in the current environment.

"At a time when the impact of COVID-19 means operators are having to make tough calls on how they spend their capital, it needs to be focused on the networks delivering the capacity people need -- and can use -- today," 2degrees CEO Mark Aue said.

"Access to 5G spectrum will allow 2degrees to continue its 5G network planning and site acquisition so it can build and test the technology. This will provide time for 5G uses cases to develop, and initial deployments, in advance of long term spectrum rights."

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