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March 22, 2017updated 23 Mar 2017 11:57am

5G sale could be blocked as Three threatens legal action

Three UK could blog the sale of 5G spectrum again, citing that bigger operators will have an unfair advantage in the upcoming auction.

By Joe Clark

Three UK‘s Chief executive has threatened legal action to block the upcoming auction of 4G and 5G airwaves.

Dave Dyson has said that a legal challenge would be necessary unless Ofcom can prevent larger operators from exercising an unfair advantage over smaller operators.

Dyson stated that unless Ofcom drastically altered the terms of the auction it could mean that the market will go almost exclusively to BT and Vodafone.

4G services were initially delayed by a year in the UK due to operators being unhappy with the terms of the auction. This next wave of 4G spectrum will also lay the groundwork for 5G technology.


Dyson told the Financial Times: “If it was predicted that the number of cars on the road or the amount of food we needed was going to increase 50 times in the next eight years, this would be headline news.”

This could mark the second time the launch of 5G services has suffered a delay involving Three, following the takeover of O2 late last year which was blocked by the European Commission. Dyson acknowledged that a further postponing of the spectrum sale would be a problem, but it is more important for the future to get the structure of the market correct.

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Both Three and O2 have requested that caps be introduced on the amount of spectrum that a single operator can purchase in the auction and Ofcom has also proposed the idea of prohibiting BT from taking part.

BT’s EE currently account for 45% of the usable national spectrum, Vodafone owns 28%, 02 15%, and Three 12%.

Rivals of Three were quick to note that there are a further two spectrum sales coming after 2020, and the operators parent company, CK Hutchinson, is capable of funding Three UK for the auction.

An Ofcom spokesman said: “We are carefully considering all responses and will publish our statement, setting out our decision, in due course.”

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