UK mobe network Three launches legal challenge over spectrum auction

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Mobile operator Three has launched a legal challenge against Ofcom's rules over the upcoming multibillion-pound radio spectrum auction.

Last month Ofcom – the UK's comms regulator – decided to cap the maximum amount of mobile spectrum a British company can own at 37 per cent in its forthcoming auction, rather than the 30 per cent Three had called for in order to level the playing field.

A spokesman for UK operator Three confirmed the business will seek a judicial review before the UK courts in relation to the competition measures that will apply in the upcoming spectrum auction.

“We anticipate a short process and a court decision by early 2018. Ofcom does not expect commercial 5G services in the UK before 2020, so this short process will not impact the availability of 5G to UK consumers."

Later this year, the regulator intends to flog licences to use 19 MHz of spectrum in two frequency bands, increasing the airwaves available for mobile devices by almost one-third.

Ofcom will also auction off its 40MHz of spectrum in the 2.3GHz band; and the 150 MHz of spectrum to be auctioned in the 3.4GHz band, identified as central to the rollout of 5G.

Dave Dyson, chief exec of Three, hinted that the firm was gearing up to a judicial review last week, suggesting that any challenge to Ofcom's rules would delay the auction by only three months, saying "it is pretty basic in terms of standard process to go through".

However, other industry observers have warned that a challenge could seriously delay the auction process.

Back in 2013, Ofcom raised £2.34bn from its 4G auction. However, that process was delayed by 18 months due to legal wrangling between the operators.

The Three spokesman added: "For a relatively short process, we feel it is a proportionate response to request an independent review of Ofcom’s proposal, which we feel unduly puts at risk its stated objective of a competitive four-player market and is to the detriment of UK consumers.”

BT/EE currently holds 42 per cent of immediately usable UK mobile spectrum. By contrast, Vodafone holds 29 per cent; O2 has 14 per cent; and Three holds 15 per cent.

An Ofcom spokesman said: “Our auction will help support the UK’s four-player mobile market, which has provided choice and value to customers for many years. We want to see new spectrum in use as soon as possible, so operators can build for the future and the UK can start benefiting from 5G mobile by 2020." ®

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