Ofcom in deep doo-doo as EE join 5G court battle

Ofcom in deep doo-doo as EE join 5G court battle

Ofcom are having terrible trouble keeping the UK’s mobile networks at bay over the 5G sell-off and now the biggest 4G network in the country has lined up against it.

EE have joined Three in lodging a legal appeal against Ofcom’s decision to limit to 37% the amount of 5G spectrum any one company can own.

Ofcom says its prime motivation is to keep the mobile market competitive. If any one firm snags too much of the 5G spectrum, it could damage competition and put too much power and wealth in the hands of a single company.

In general, monopolies are always bad news for you and me.

They tend to drive up average prices to the detriment of decent customer service.

Why does it matter?

So, the more spectrum a company has exclusive access to, the better quality of calls and data availability it has. Because EE holds the most, it can offer customers the fastest 4G in highest number of cities and towns across the UK.

EE are owned by BT. Together they hold 42% of the UK mobile spectrum. Vodafone is in second place with 29%, Three has 15% and O2 14%.

As we reported earlier this month, Three has been calling for a much lower limit on the amount of spectrum any mobile network can own – just 30% – because it lost out so badly when the 4G spectrum was auctioned off in 2013.

A spokesperson for Three said: “We confirm that we have filed a judicial review before the UK courts in relation to the competition measures that will apply in the upcoming spectrum auction. It is absolutely vital that the regulator gets this auction right for the long-term benefit of all consumers.”

What does Ofcom want to do?

In the face of rapidly increasing interest in mobile broadband (and newer smartphones that have the tech to actually use it), Ofcom wants to auction off more space on the spectrum to the UK’s mobile networks.

Later this year we will auction licences to use 190 MHz of spectrum in two ‘frequency bands’, increasing the airwaves available for mobile devices by almost one third.

40 MHz of spectrum will be auctioned in the 2.3GHz band. This band is already supported by mobile devices from manufacturers such as Apple and Samsung. These airwaves could be used immediately after release to provide extra capacity, meaning faster downloads and internet browsing for mobile users.

In addition, 150 MHz of spectrum will be auctioned in the 3.4GHz band. These airwaves are not compatible with most current mobile devices, but are expected to be usable by future phones and tablets. The 3.4GHz band has been identified as central to the rollout of 5G mobile across Europe.

- Ofcom's rules for auction, July 2017

Big delay, big problem

In short, it means another delay on the auction for who will control the future of mobile in the UK. This is a multi-billion pound industry and nothing short of the future of everything from consumer technology to health, education and business.

Originally it was anticipated the auction would go ahead later this year, but the legal challenges mean they will not be held until the first half of next year at the earliest.

Ofcom said the delay was “very regrettable” and that it would “harm consumers, businesses and ultimately the UK economy”.

EE confirmed they had lodged a legal appeal but declined to comment further.


Tom is a tech journalist and Editor at SimOnlyDeals.co.uk.
Back To Top