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European Telcos Are Paying the Most on Planet for 5G. Here's Why

Attendees check their smartphone devices by a 5G sign during the opening day of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain.
Attendees check their smartphone devices by a 5G sign during the opening day of the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Spain.Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Phone companies in Europe knew they’d have to shell out for airwaves to enable the next generation of mobile services. The bill is looking bigger than they’d bargained for.

Italy’s ongoing auction for 5G frequency this month has blown through a world record for a key frequency band, reaping 5.8 billion euros ($6.8 billion) and counting. That’s more than double the country’s target and compares with 23 billion euros that the industry’s main body, the GSMA, expects carriers will spend on wireless in Europe this year, excluding spectrum.