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Three CEO slams ‘unfair’ spectrum holdings

Three CEO Dave Dyson calls on Ofcom to act to prevent one operator from owning more than 30% of the UK’s total mobile radio spectrum

Three CEO Dave Dyson has said the uneven distribution of mobile radio spectrum among the UK’s four mobile network operators (MNOs) is detrimental to a free and fair market, and urged telecoms regulator Ofcom to address the issue.

Speaking as the MNO unveiled a half-yearly business update, Dyson called on Ofcom to enact regulations that would stop any one operator from owning more than 30% of total spectrum holdings, following the delayed auction of parts of the high-capacity 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz spectrum bands.

Dyson said the UK had one of the most uneven distributions of spectrum in Europe, and accused his competitors – notably EE, which controls 42% of the total spectrum currently in use – of stockpiling “vital mobile airwaves to the detriment of competition, choice and quality for consumers”.

He presented statistics that purport to show that relative to other Western European economies, the UK currently has the most imbalanced spectrum, with the two smallest operators, Three and O2, controlling barely 30% of the total.

“Three believes fair access to spectrum is critical for a better mobile market for everyone. It’s key for a thriving UK digital economy and for continued innovation in mobile,” said Dyson in a statement.

The auction was put on hold at the end of 2015 due in part to the uncertainty created in the market by the subsequently cancelled merger of Three with O2. In total, 190MHz of spectrum was due to be sold off to boost 4G network capacity, equivalent to 75% of that sold in the original 4G auction, which went for £3.5bn.

The two spectrum bands up for auction, which used to belong to the Ministry of Defence, were first proposed for sale under the coalition government as a means to liberate unused government assets and pay down the deficit.

The bands are considered particularly valuable for 4G mobile broadband because they are better suited to carrying large amounts of data and would therefore provide a useful boost to network capacity around the UK.

Australia, China and India have already deployed 4G services on the 2.3GHz band, while the 3.4GHz band is well in use across the European Union and Canada.

In July 2016, Ofcom published a brief note saying it would open a further consultation on competition measures and auction design for the award of the 2.3 and 3.4 GHz spectrum bands in autumn. The regulator declined to comment on Dyson’s specific statements regarding a spectrum cap, as the consultation has not yet opened.

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