Ofcom Presses Ahead With 4G & 5G Spectrum Auction Despite Three Legal Challenge

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Ofcom says it is in the public interest to press ahead with auction of 4G and 5G spectrum as soon as possible

Ofcom is pressing ahead with plans to sell off 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz spectrum regardless of the outcome of an appeal by operator Three, claiming it is in “the public interest” to do it as soon as possible.

The regulator had planned to hold an auction of 40MHz worth of 2.3GHz airwaves, which can be used right away to support existing 4G services, and 150MHz of 3.4GHz of bandwidth that is earmarked for 5G in 2020, in autumn last year.

But the process has been delayed because of legal challenges by both BT-EE and Three over a proposed spectrum cap.

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Ofcom spectrum auction

Ofcom wants to limit any single operator limited to 255MHz of ‘immediately usable’ spectrum (that is 800MHz, 900MHz, 1400MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz and 2.6GHz) and 340MHZ of all airwaves available in the UK – an overall cap of 37 percent.

As of July 2017, BT has 255MHz so is banned from bidding in the 2.3GHz auction but could gain as much as 85MHz of the 3.4GHz band. Vodafone has 176MHz so is limited to 85MHz of each, while Three and O2 have no restrictions.

However Three wants this cap to be lowered to 30 percent. EE had grudgingly accepted the cap but said it was forced to take legal action of its own because of Three.

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Ofcom’s cap was upheld in December but Three has gone to the Court of Appeal, which has expedited the hearing to February.

The regulator is fed up with the continued delays, which were a characteristic of the 2013 auction of 4G spectrum, and will now publish regulations before the end of the month. If the Court of Appeal rules in Three’s favour, then it will respond accordingly.

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

Three declined to comment to Silicon, but O2 was in agreement with the regulator.

“We have said all along that the spectrum auction needs to take place as soon as possible,” said Mark Evans, O2 CEO. “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.”

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