BT's EE to challenge Three as battle for mobile spectrum auction makes waves

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EE has thrown itself into battle with Three over mobile spectrum (Source: Getty)

BT-owned mobile operator EE, will today go into a battle with rival Three over the auction of mobile spectrum as the fight heats up for dominance of the next-generation 5G network.

EE will today send telecoms regulator Ofcom a letter before action, announcing its intention to challenge in the High Court restrictions sought by Three on an upcoming auction of the spectrum.

Three claims the other three bigger mobile operators in the UK, Vodafone, BT and O2, can currently snap up too much of the mobile spectrum, strangling competition. It has asked Ofcom to lower a current cap on the share of the airwaves that each company can own.

Read more: Ofcom clamps down on BT and EE dominance by capping 5G allowances

Operators are currently capped at 37 per cent of the spectrum, a limit which Three has sought to reduce further.

EE claims that the attempt by Three to lower the overall cap will damage its ability to bid in a new spectrum auction in 2019 for frequencies used in 5G technology which promises to deliver faster wireless speeds, and even to make wired broadband lines defunct.

EE’s letter will say that it will not participate in a separate auction of spectrum in the 2.3 GHz frequency, but will insist that any cap on allocations is not extended to 5G spectra, City A.M. understands.

Read more: Superfast 5G trials will start in early 2018 with £16m funding boost

Mobile spectrum is crucial for the operation of the wireless networks over which mobile phones communicate, making the auctions held by regulators fiercely contested, as firms vie to grab the most efficient parts of the spectrum.

BT and EE currently own large chunks of less sought after higher-frequency spectrum in current use, which requires a more extensive and expensive network of towers. This spectrum is less valuable because of its shorter range and weaker penetration of buildings.

Rival operator O2 objected to news of the challenge by EE. Mark Evans, chief executive of O2, owned by Spanish firm Telefonica, said legal action will “inevitably cause delay to the auction” and harm the UK economy.

However, EE said its action could be decided in conjunction with Three’s challenge, meaning there will be no extra delay.

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