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January 17, 2018

Ofcom sets spectrum auction date amid Three legal battle

The regulator is bringing the auction forward to benefit the public by providing deployment of quick, higher quality service sooner.

By April Slattery

Ofcom is hurrying plans for the much anticipated spectrum auction, despite an ongoing court battle with provider Three.

The regulator was expected to deliver the spectrum auction for the 2.3 and 3.4GHz bands in Autumn last year, but it was delayed due to legal action taken by Three and BT/EE.

Three requested lower caps in regard to spectrum ownership, asking for 30% to be the maximum amount of spectrum ownership a British company could have. However, Ofcom capped the maximum amount at 37%. In comparison, BT/EE wanted to completely remove the cap from the 3.4GHz band.

Each band is crucial to extending 4G coverage across the country, as well as laying the foundation of 5G. This has led Ofcom to bring the auction forward despite the ongoing legal action. The regulator believes it is in the public interest to hold the auction sooner rather than later, in light of the significant demand for access to the spectrum.

Ofcom sets spectrum auction date amid Three legal battle

The bands being debated over will allow 4G and 5G deployment.

“The litigation by Three is continuing to delay access to the spectrum and the benefits to consumers and businesses that can flow from it,” Ofcom said.

“We are keen to ensure that we can move as quickly as possible to hold the auction once the judgment of the Court of Appeal has been given. We have therefore decided to proceed to make the auction Regulations for this spectrum award process on Wednesday 24th January.”

A quick court progress recognised the strong public interest in the auction going ahead, which saw the High Court favour Ofcom’s decision and dismissed both BT’sand Three’s claims on 20th December. However, Three looked to appeal the decision with a date set for 13th and 14th February 2018.

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Despite a Court of Appeal date set, Ofcom has brought forward the auction date to late January when the regulator will publish the regulations. Such regulations will be expected to come into force on Wednesday 31st January, as well as published guidance for bidders on how to take part in the auction.

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Mark Evans, CEO at O2, said: “We have said all along that the spectrum auction needs to take place as soon as possible. Delays are not in the interests of consumers, businesses and UK plc. Ofcom’s announcement today, to start the auction regulation process, is , therefore,to be welcomed especially as there are frequencies that can be used immediately to improve customer experience, boost investment in digital connectivity and deliver economic growth.”

Once in place, the regulator will set a date to confirm when applications will be accepted. Currently, BT/EE currently holds 42% of immediately usable UK mobile spectrum, with Vodafone owning 29%, Three owning just 15%, and O2 14%.

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