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5G is coming: why was Brazil’s auction the largest in the world

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL –  For analysts, including the OECD (Organization for Cooperation and Development) it was the world’s largest 5G auction.

The reason for the success lies in the number of radio frequency bands and the size of each one. Four bands were sold: 700 MHz; 2.3 GHz; 26 GHz and 3.5 GHz – the latter, which is the most used by 5G in the world, had over 400 Mhz of spectrum width on offer.

It is the largest frequency band auction in the country’s history. (photo internet reproduction)


Think of 5G as a cake, in which each of these frequency bands is represented by a layer of filling. Claro has a slice with three layers: 3.5 GHz, 2.3 GHz, and 26 GHz. Newcomer Brisanet got a slice with only 3.5 GHz and 2.3 GHz.

Although both took home a piece of the 3.5 GHz layer, the size of the slice was smaller for each. Claro took a large slice, of 100 Mhz, while Brisanet got only a 80 Mhz cut, specifically intended for the Northeast and Midwest of Brazil.

However, the size of the cake is what matters, which not only allowed more traditional companies such as Claro, Vivo and Tim to participate, but also made room for new operators that until now did not supply mobile internet to as many regions of the country.

In all, the 5G “cake” had 3.7 GHz in diameter of spectral capacity:

400 MHz in the 3.5 GHz;
20 MHz at 700 MHz;
90 MHz at 2.3 GHz;
3.26 GHz at 26 GHz.

“I’ve never seen this much spectrum being auctioned in one go,” said in 2020 Qualcomm’s ex-vice president of government relations Francisco Soares, the world’s largest maker of mobile processors.

“If you add up the frequencies the operators have in use with 2G, 3G and 4G it adds up to about 600 MHz. The auction will add over 6 times what we have in operation today,” added Ericsson’s former Institutional Relations Director Tiago Machado at the time.


It is worthy of note that the 5G auction was not only about 5G. According to Leonardo Euler Morais, who completed his term as ANATEL (National Telecommunications Agency) president on the auction’s first day, there were “4 auctions in 1,” considering the number of available bands.

In addition, parts of the frequencies sold will be used for 4G and are a kind of “leftovers” from another auction. This is the case of the 700 MHz band.

In 2014, Tim, Claro, and Vivo bought portions of the spectrum now being used to offer 4G with greater range – the initial model adopted in the country was operating in the 2.5 GHz band. This time, the company that won the 700 MHz was São Paulo-based startup Winity.

For commercial 5G, the 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz bands will be used. The latter is called millimeter band and offers high transmission capacity, which also includes higher speed.

Vivo and Claro, which won the national portion of the 26 GHz band, will be required to take quality internet to public schools. But many lots of this band were not sold to anyone.

According to the 5G frequency auction commission president Abraão Balbino, this happened because the band refers to an exploratory initiative. Consequently, there are uncertainties on the part of companies as to how the technology might be implemented.

“We offered a lot of spectrum to see how far it would go. Obviously there are uncertainties and I understand that this leads to a little less interest in this band than in others. But this is expected. Every auction has leftover spectrum,” he explained during a press conference after the auction on Friday.

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