In April 2000 the UK Government auctioned off 3G spectrum to 5 mobile networks raising an incredible £22.47bn. The original estimated income from the auction was just (well it’s relative!) £5bn. Expensive air however you look at it!
The methodology for the auction and reason it was chosen is explained in this paper (pdf).
In simplistic form – there were 5 licences available. Licence A had to go to a new entrant to the market. Licence B and the smaller licences C, D and E could go to either one of the four incumbents (Vodafone; One-2-One, now T-Mobile; Orange; Cellnet, now O2) or a new player. Bidding was held in rounds and bidders could bid for any applicable license in £100,000 increments up to a certain percentage increase each round. The auction would be over when a round occurred in which no new bids were received. In the end 150 rounds took place over a period of a month and a half.
The Radiocommunications Agency created a special website for the auction detailing its progression. This website is still available in archive form on the Ofcom website complete with 2000-era design and instructions for saving data from the site using either Netscape or Internet Explorer.
This was one of the biggest auctions of all time, a recent auction of 3G mobile spectrum in the far larger market of India only raised $15bn. Using frames and with wavy animated text the website, created using Microsoft FrontPage 3.0, doesn’t quite seem to fit the multi-billion pound nature of of the event! Still that’s progress for you – bids were submitted by Fax.