Regulator is urged to impose a 30 percent cap ahead of spectrum auction next month as Three, TalkTalk voice concerns about BT and Vodafone’s ‘hoarding’
Three and TalkTalk are demanding Ofcom to ensure no single mobile operator can own more than 30 percent of all the available spectrum in the UK, claiming that under the current system, BT and Vodafone have hoarded up bandwidth to the detriment of consumers and competition.
In 2017, Ofcom will auction 190MHz of 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz spectrum vacated by the Ministry of Defence. Both bands are capable of carrying large amounts of data and it is claimed the amount of spectrum available is equivalent to three quarters of that sold at the auction of 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequencies in 2013.
Three wants the proposed cap in place by the time of the sale, arguing the UK suffers from one of the “most uneven distributions of spectrum across Europe”. It says that following the BT’s purchase of EE, the combined entity has 42 percent, while Vodafone has 29 percent, Three 15 percent and O2 14 percent.
In an open letter to Ofcom chief executive Sharon White, Three CEO Dave Dyson, TalkTalk CEO Dido Harding and their counterparts at CityFibre, Relish and the Federation of Communications Services (FCS) have also lent their support, the regulator is told that without action, the UK will suffer from poorer coverage, slower speeds and fall behind in the race to develop 5G.
“The UK suffers from the largest imbalance in spectrum distribution across mobile operators of any developed country,” read the letter. “BT already owns nearly half of the UK’s vital airwaves and Vodafone nearly a third.
“This imbalance has developed as a consequence of Ofcom’s failure to put protections in place that ensure all networks have access to sufficient amounts of spectrum to deliver both a great mobile service and competitive prices.
“Failure to tackle the imbalance will see consumers suffer the misery of higher prices for a poorer service at a time when mobile’s importance to the digital economy has never been greater.”
BT and Vodafone respond
In response to the letter an spokesman from EE, owned by BT, told TechWeekEurope: “We use our spectrum to deliver the very best network experience for customers. We pioneered 4G and we are a leader in network speeds, developing technologies to provide some of the highest mobile download speeds in the world.
“We are unique in our commitment to expand 4G coverage to 95% of the UK’s landmass by 2020, further than any other UK network has done, and will continue to ensure the UK stays at mobile technology’s leading edge.”
Vodafone’s response was a tad more combative: “These are some pretty surprising comments from an operator which has been in the UK market for more than 15 years and has had ample opportunity as well as the financial resources to bid for spectrum when it’s become available.”
Ofcom set aside spectrum for a “fourth operator” at the last major auction of airwaves in 2013 in order to maintain competition. This was won by Three, but the move by Ofcom resulted in legal challenges and delays to the process.
Three has hinted it will return to its role as mobile underdog following the failure of the proposed £10.25 billion merger with O2, while TalkTalk said this week it was “unambiguously” reprising its position as broadband challenger.
O2 is not a signatory of the letter, but earlier this year, CTO Brendan O’ Reilly told TechWeekEurope: “We’re looking forward to see what the rules are. For us, it’s about having a competitive auction. We don’t have parity in spectrum at this time. I think we need to make sure there is parity to help consumers.”
BT have been contacted for comment.
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