The Agency's president Matthias Kurth discloses in an interview with the newspaper that the preparations for the auction will kick-off this year, with the goal to sell "a major part" of the un-allocated frequencies for the use of UMTS services. Kurth expects not only the incumbent operators Vodafone, T-Mobile, E-plus and O2 to participate, but also new entrants such as AT&T and Hutchison Whampoa with its 3 brand.
I do not really think that AT&T and Hutchison Whampoa have directly disclosed any interest in UMTS frequencies to the Agency. Given Kurth's mission to encourage more competition, I rather believe that this is an open invitation to these two operators to become active in what is Europe's biggest mobile market. The Agency has quite a track record in establishing competition in the fixed line business, where Deutsche Telekom has seen its market share for DSL lines erode from 90% in 2002 to 50% in 2006. Prices for national and international PSTN calls have fallen below the 1 Cent per minute level due to aggressive pricing by niche service providers (check out the online calculator on billiger-telefonieren.de - and yes that's 1 Cent or 0,01 Euro per Minute).
The two market leaders in Germany Vodafone and T-Mobile already compete with AT&T on the U.S. market (Vodafone through a stake in Verizon Wireless), so the auctions might be a good opportunity for pay-back time, as well as for the next growth story for Wall Street.
With a population of 80M and an ARPU somewhere around 21 Euro/Month, Germany is Europe's biggest market, but also a highly competitive one - mobile penetration is to reach 100% in 2007. However, there is still room to grow and market potential for 3G services. Coverage is still not complete, e.g. T-Mobile started its roll-out in May 2004 and just passed the 50% coverage mark in January 2007 according to TelecomWeb and general UMTS penetration in Western Europe is expected to reach not more than 60% by 2010 according to Deutsche Bank Research (pdf) - still a far cry from the 100% GSM penetration. (see also a report (pdf) from Nokia on the 3G Business Prospects in Western Europe). Additional competition can be expected from the WiMAX players in Germany, among them Clearwire.