Three UK faces competition for final spectrum allocation


Ofcom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s announcement of the long awaited 4G spectrum auction has got tongues wagging as Ofcom has confirmed it will reserve a portion of the frequencies for a fourth operator.

The idea is to promote more competition so consumers aren’t just left with the three major mobile operators – Vodafone, O2 and Everything Everywhere – to choose from when it comes to faster mobile data.

Unsurprisingly, everyone expects Three UK to be that fourth company as it already has a sturdy business in the UK. However, Ofcom told me earlier today it would be “too far an assumption” to think Three would win the bid without competition as other firms had “formerly expressed interest” in getting their hands on the spectrum.

The next obvious contender would have been Virgin Mobile, yet, it seems the company has thrown its toys out the pram. A spokesman told us the ISP was interested in the 2.6GHz spectrum up for offer as it could help improve wireless connectivity, but as Ofcom is only offering packages with 2.6MHz combined with another frequency – either 800MHz or 1800MHz – it wouldn’t be worth the investment.

Next up would be Sky. Rumours have been around for months that the TV and internet provider was looking to launch a mobile service in the UK. However, it is still sticking to the official line with us that it has no plans in the offing to extend its mobile solutions past that of its public Wi-Fi network, which it acquired with its purchase of The Cloud. I asked about increasing this connectivity with 2.6GHz but got short shrift.  

So who else could there be? If other ISPs take the same attitude as Virgin Media, it is unlikely we could see any of them trying to gain spectrum, and with three dominating mobile operators, along with an underdog, could there be room for another player to enter the game?

So, Three remains the likely candidate, but it will be worth watching the trials and tribulations of the auction process – considering how fraught the journey has been so far – to see if any other prospects put their heads above the parapet. 

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