Ofcom goes ahead with 5G spectrum auction as Three appeals

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Ofcom is pushing on with its auction of valuable spectrum after fending off court action from Three and EE.

Last month saw the UK High Court throw out legal challenges by EE and Three to Ofcom’s proposed spectrum caps for the auction, with Three now taking the case to the Court of Appeal.

Despite the ongoing legal action, Ofcom has announced that the rules of the auction will now be published on 24 January before coming into force on 31 January.

The regulator expects to start accepting applications around a week later. However, it will not begin formally qualifying bidders until the results of Three’s submission to the Court of Appeal on 14 February.

If Three’s appeal requires changes in the rules, Ofcom said it will make them with “utmost expedition” to avoid further delay.

“The litigation by Three is continuing to delay access to the spectrum and the benefits to consumers and businesses that can flow from it,” Ofcom said in a statement. “We are keen to ensure that we can move as quickly as possible to hold the auction once the judgement of the Court of Appeal has been given.”

Three did not respond directly to Ofcom’s announcement, although a spokesperson said its appeal would not significantly delay the auction.

Mark Evans, CEO of Three rival O2 UK, said: “We have said all along that the spectrum auction needs to take place as soon as possible. Delays are not in the interests of consumers, businesses and UK plc.

“Ofcom’s announcement today, to start the auction regulation process, is therefore to be welcomed especially as there are frequencies that can be used immediately to improve customer experience, boost investment in digital connectivity and deliver economic growth.”

[Read more: O2 faces crossroads as 4G spectrum auction looms]

Ofcom initially wanted to conduct the auction in autumn 2017 before it was derailed by judicial appeals by Three and EE.

The regulator had proposed a cap of 37 percent on an operator’s total spectrum holdings by 2020 and a cap of 255MHz on immediately useable spectrum that an operator can hold once the auction is completed.

Three had argued for a faster imposition of the overall limit while EE had argued caps should be abolished completely.