By Sergio Goncalves
LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal should see 5G services go on sale for customers within weeks after new operators bought spectrum licences in an auction, the head of ANACOM regulator said on Thursday, bolstering much-needed competition in a sector dominated by just three players.
Portugal and Lithuania are the only two European Union countries that have not yet embarked on a commercial rollout of 5G technology, which will allow for everything from self-driving cars to remote surgery.
ANACOM chief Joao Cadete told reporters a day after the regulator concluded a long-running 5G licences auction there were still some administrative procedures to follow, but some players, who have been testing the 5G technology, were practically ready to launch their retail and corporates offers.
"It will be quick... maybe a few weeks. The auction will increase the needed competition in Portugal," he said.
ANACOM said on Wednesday that Telecom Nowo, owned by Spain's Masmovil, and Dixarobil, which belongs to Romanian group Digi, bought licences in the auction, which took 200 days to complete.
They will join NOS, Altice (MEO) and Vodafone, which also bought 5G licences, in Portugal's retail mobile market. They account for almost 100% of the market.
Small telecom operator Dense Air also won a 5G licence, but will only operate in the wholesale mobile market.
Cadete said the auction would benefit consumers by increasing competition in a market where "prices and offers are fully aligned" between the dominating players."
Delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the auction of several spectrum lots was launched by ANACOM in January, despite legal challenges from the main players who say the rules unfairly favoured new entrants.
(Reporting by Sergio Goncalves; Editing by Nathan Allen and Jane Merriman)