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The Biggest Auction Ever: the Sale of the British 3G Telecom Licences

  • Ken Binmore

    (University College London)

  • Paul Klemperer

    (Nuffield College, Oxford)

This paper reviews the part played by economists in organising the British third-generation mobile-phone licence auction that concluded on 27 April 2000. It raised £22½ billion ($34 billion or 2½% of GNP) and was widely described at the time as the biggest auction ever. We discuss the merits of auctions versus "beauty contests”, the aims of the auction, the problems we faced, the auction designs we considered, and the mistakes that were made. Copyright Royal Economic Society 2002.

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Article provided by Royal Economic Society in its journal Economic Journal.

Volume (Year): 112 (2002)
Issue (Month): 478 (March)
Pages: C74-C96

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Handle: RePEc:ecj:econjl:v:112:y:2002:i:478:p:c74-c96
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  1. Klemperer, Paul, 1998. "Auctions with almost common values: The 'Wallet Game' and its applications," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 42(3-5), pages 757-769, May.
  2. Paul Milgrom, . "Putting Auction Theory to Work: The Simultaneous Ascending Auction," Working Papers 98002, Stanford University, Department of Economics.
  3. Paul Klemperer, 2002. "What Really Matters in Auction Design," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 16(1), pages 169-189, Winter.
  4. Myerson, Roger B. & Satterthwaite, Mark A., 1983. "Efficient mechanisms for bilateral trading," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 29(2), pages 265-281, April.
  5. Martin Feldstein, 1995. "Tax Avoidance and the Deadweight Loss of the Income Tax," NBER Working Papers 5055, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Richard Engelbrecht-Wiggans & Charles M. Kahn, 2005. "Low-Revenue Equilibria in Simultaneous Ascending-Bid Auctions," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 51(3), pages 508-518, March.
  7. Jeremy Bulow & Paul Klemperer, 1999. "Prices and the Winner's Curse," Game Theory and Information 9904003, EconWPA.
  8. Sandro Brusco & Giuseppe Lopomo, 1999. "Collusion via Signalling in Open Ascending Auctions with Multiple Objects and Complementarities," Working Papers 99-05, New York University, Leonard N. Stern School of Business, Department of Economics.
  9. ehiel, Philippe & Benny Moldovanu & Ennio Stacchetti, 1994. "How (not) to sell nuclear weapons," Discussion Paper Serie B 288, University of Bonn, Germany.
  10. Milgrom, Paul R & Weber, Robert J, 1982. "A Theory of Auctions and Competitive Bidding," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(5), pages 1089-1122, September.
  11. Bulow, J. & Klemperer, P., 1999. "The Tobacco Deal," Economics Papers 1999-w11, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
  12. John Cable & Andrew Henley & Kevin Holland, 2002. "Pot of gold or winner's curse? An event study of the auctions of 3G mobile telephone licences in the UK," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 23(4), pages 447-462, December.
  13. Cramton, Peter & Schwartz, Jesse A, 2000. "Collusive Bidding: Lessons from the FCC Spectrum Auctions," Journal of Regulatory Economics, Springer, vol. 17(3), pages 229-52, May.
  14. Plott, Charles R. & Salmon, Timothy C., 2004. "The simultaneous, ascending auction: dynamics of price adjustment in experiments and in the UK3G spectrum auction," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 53(3), pages 353-383, March.
  15. Bulow, Jeremy I. & Huang, Ming & Klemperer, Paul, 1996. "Toeholds and Takeovers," CEPR Discussion Papers 1486, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  16. Abbink, Klaus & Irlenbusch, Bernd & Pezanis-Christou, Paul & Rockenbach, Bettina & Sadrieh, Abdolkarim & Selten, Reinhard, 2005. "An experimental test of design alternatives for the British 3G/UMTS auction," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 49(2), pages 505-530, February.
  17. Richard J. Gilbert & Paul Klemperer, 2000. "An Equilibrium Theory of Rationing," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 31(1), pages 1-21, Spring.
  18. Paul Klemperer (ed.), 2000. "The Economic Theory of Auctions," Books, Edward Elgar, volume 0, number 1669.
  19. Bulow, Jeremy I. & Klemperer, Paul, 1994. "Auctions vs. Negotiations," CEPR Discussion Papers 924, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  20. Wruck, Karen Hopper, 1994. "Financial policy, internal control, and performance Sealed Air Corporation's leveraged special dividend," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 157-192, October.
  21. Ballard, Charles L & Shoven, John B & Whalley, John, 1985. "General Equilibrium Computations of the Marginal Welfare Costs of Taxes in the United States," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(1), pages 128-38, March.
  22. Börgers, Tilman & Dustmann, Christian, 2001. "Strange Bids: Bidding Behaviour in the United Kingdom's Third Generation Spectrum Auction," CEPR Discussion Papers 3072, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  23. Donald A. Walker (ed.), 2000. "Equilibrium," Books, Edward Elgar, volume 0, number 1585.
  24. Klemperer, Paul, 2002. "How (Not) to Run Auctions: The European 3G Telecom Auctions," CEPR Discussion Papers 3215, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  25. R. Preston McAfee & John McMillan, 1996. "Analyzing the Airwaves Auction," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(1), pages 159-175, Winter.
  26. Cramton Peter & Schwartz Jesse A, 2002. "Collusive Bidding in the FCC Spectrum Auctions," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 1(1), pages 1-20, December.
  27. Marco Pagnozzi, 2003. "Sorry Winners," CSEF Working Papers 108, Centre for Studies in Economics and Finance (CSEF), University of Naples, Italy, revised 09 May 2007.
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