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Ofcom snubs Three and pushes forward with plans for 5G auction

Ofcom is pushing forward with plans to auction off the UK’s usable radio spectrum, snubbing a legal appeal by Three.

The communications regulator said in a statement yesterday that it was in the public interest for the auction to take place as soon as possible even though Three’s appeal is still to be heard.

Initially scheduled for October, the auction will expand the 4G network and pave the way for the roll-out of 5G mobile connections. It was postponed following challenges by Three and EE, which lost their appeals last month.

Under Ofcom’s proposed terms, no provider would be allowed to control more than 37 per cent of the UK’s mobile spectrum by 2020.

EE, which merged with BT last year and currently owns 42 per cent of the spectrum, called for the cap to be dropped. Three, meanwhile, said that the rules needed to be strengthened, preventing any single provider from owning more than 30 per cent of the spectrum.

While EE dropped their complaint after its challenge was rejected, Three submitted an appeal. Ofcom revealed yesterday that the Court of Appeal had expedited the submission and would consider it on 13 and 14 February.

“We have therefore decided to proceed to make the auction regulations for this spectrum award process on Wednesday 24 January,” the regulator said yesterday. Once the regulations come into force on 31 January, Ofcom is expected to publish guidance for potential bidders.

“These steps all steps that we would need to take whether or not the Court of Appeal upholds our decision, and the judgment of the High Court,” Ofcom said in a statement. “If we have to change any of the regulations in light of the Court of Appeal’s judgment we will do so with utmost expedition to minimise further delay.”

A Three UK spokesperson declined to comment, but referred NS Tech to the statement it issued when its initial challenge was rejected: “We are disappointed by the initial ruling of the court as a fairer distribution of spectrum is vital for UK consumers and the digital economy.

“The team at Three is committed to providing the best possible offering for our customers and we are seeking permission to challenge the ruling in the Court of Appeal urgently. Ofcom does not expect 5G to rollout in the UK until 2019/20 at the earliest, so this will have no impact on the delivery of this new technology.”