Government has directly allocated 160MHz of the 3.5GHz C-band originally set aside for this year’s early access 5G spectrum auction. The move aims to speed up the 5G roll out after the Covid–19 pandemic put the planned spectrum auction on hold.

Allocation means the Government will offer Spark and 2degrees 60MHz each while the British-based Dense Air is able to buy 40MHz. Vodafone removed itself from the early access auction as the auction terms would require it to return some spectrum it is already using.

Rights for these C-band frequencies run until October 2022 when long-term rights will be allocated in a separate auction which is scheduled for November 2022.

Spark CEO Jolie Hodson says allocating spectrum this way means her company can move ahead with significant investment in 5G infrastructure. She says this will play a critical role as the nation responds to, and recovers from the pandemic.

She says: "…in a world where physical distancing will remain critical for some time, technologies that connect people virtually have a fundamental role to play in our economic recovery”.

Spark says it aims to switch on 5G sites in centres and regions across both the North and South Island over the next year.

2degrees is moving more cautiously on 5G than Spark or Vodafone and may not have a 5G network before the 2022 auction. Dense Air is a wholesale wireless operator which sells packaged services to carriers.