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T-Mobile pulls out of 2.6GHz challenge

O2 left to fight on alone

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T-Mobile has given up the fight against Ofcom's sale of 2.6GHz spectrum, leaving O2 as the only operator still challenging the regulator and delaying the auction.

T-Mobile launched the action back in May last year, contending that it was unreasonable to sell off 2.6GHz while the fate of 900MHz was unknown. O2 supported that action, and recently launched one of its own, which is now the only thing preventing Ofcom from pushing ahead with the auction.

The argument was that it was impossible to value, and thus bid on, 2.6GHz when operators didn't know if they would be allowed to deploy 3G GSM at 900MHz (they will), or how 900MHz is going to be redistributed between them (still under debate). There is also a cynical idea that the whole thing was just a ploy to stop WiMAX being deployed, at 2.6GHz, before 4G GSM (Long Term Evolution) was ready: T-Mobile and O2 are both fans of LTE and a successful WiMAX deployment would be embarrassing, so tying the 2.6GHz action up in litigation is, at the least, a convenient accident. But now that WiMAX is all but dead in the water, there's little reason to continue the fight.

Exactly why T-Mobile has pulled out we don't know; we asked but only got a resounding "No Comment" from the company. O2 was always the more amenable complainant - happy to allow part of the 2.6GHz band to be sold off, but the rest delayed. But then O2 has some 900MHz spectrum in which it is poised to be allowed to deploy 3G, unlike T-Mobile.

Ofcom is convinced it won't take long to clear O2's case (pdf statement), though the scheduled hearing on the 19th May means Ofcom won't meet its self-imposed deadline of March this year. The best the regulator can now hope for is September this year, though perhaps a better economy means companies will be more inclined to invest in frequencies by then.

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