Three plans to go to court over UK regulator’s spectrum decision

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Three UK is seeking a judicial review to overturn Ofcom’s ruling on the upcoming spectrum auction, it has confirmed.

The mobile operator’s move follows the UK regulator’s decision last month to impose a cap of 37 percent on total spectrum holdings by 2020.

Ofcom has also proposed a cap of 255MHz on "immediately useable" spectrum that an operator can hold once the auction of 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz spectrum, slated for next month, is completed.

Three, which had been campaigning for a 30 percent cap on total holdings, strongly criticised Ofcom’s decision at the time and said it would “respond”.

The judicial review process, which assesses the lawfulness of a decision or action by a public body, consists of two stages: an application for permission and a court hearing.

Should it get past the first stage, the operator said it expects a court decision by early 2018. Three claimed this “short process” would not impact the launch of commercial 5G services, expected in 2020.

A Three spokesperson said: "It is absolutely vital that the regulator gets this auction right for the long-term benefit of all consumers. For a relatively short process, we feel it is a proportionate response to request an independent review of Ofcom’s proposal, which we feel unduly puts at risk its stated objective of a competitive four-player market and is to the detriment of UK consumers.”

In response, Ofcom said: “Our auction will help support the UK’s four-player mobile market, which has provided choice and value to customers for many years. We want to see new spectrum in use as soon as possible, so operators can build for the future and the UK can start benefitting from 5G mobile by 2020.”

The auction will increase the amount of spectrum available for mobile broadband by almost a third.

While BT is excluded from the auction under the current terms imposed by Ofcom, the second largest holder of spectrum Vodafone will not be.

O2, which like Three holds considerably less spectrum than Vodafone and BT, was also critical of the decision but wanted the auction to go ahead as soon as possible.

In the event of legal wrangling, O2 CEO Mark Evans has said the operator would refarm some of its 2G spectrum to use for 4G.