BT bids in Ofcom 4G spectrum auction

BT sets up a specialist company – Niche Spectrum Ventures – to bid for 4G spectrum, despite claims it is uninterested in the mobile market

BT has entered the bidding process for Ofcom’s 4G spectrum auction, despite previous comments from CEO Ian Livingston about staying out of the mobile market.

Ofcom has released the names of accepted bidders who will take part in the 4G spectrum auction.

These include the large UK operators EE, 3, Vodafone and O2.

However, the list also included less familiar names looking to launch mobile services in the UK. These include HKT, a leading telecoms provider in Hong Kong; MLL Telecom, a UK network specialist; and Niche Spectrum Ventures, a subsidiary of the BT Group.

According to Companies House, BT set up Niche Spectrum Ventures in June 2012. The BT subsidiary has yet to file any accounts. 

BT CEO Ian Livingston has spoken publicly about not wanting to enter the mobile market. However, today (20 December 2012) BT declined to comment on its part in the 4G spectrum auction, except to confirm Niche Spectrum Ventures is part of the BT group.

Analysts have previously criticised the UK for having too many operators serving a relatively small population. The prospect of another entrant is likely to cause friction between the operators already struggling for market share.

But Ofcom CEO Ed Richards told Computer Weekly he did not share these concerns.

“The criticism I hear more recently is not that there are too many operators in the UK, but when I talk to colleagues across Europe and the rest of the world it is that there are too few operators in other markets and consumers have to pay more than they should,” Richards said.

“I am not overly worried about that. We will see what the auction delivers. If it delivers another operator, then it delivers another operator, we will see what happens in due course. What we are concerned about is to make sure there is a healthy, competitive dynamic.”

To enter the process, each company put down a deposit of £100,000. The auction will gather pace in January 2013 when contenders bid for up to 28 lots of spectrum from the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands. After a number of rounds, the outcome is expected towards in February or March 2013.

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