British cell service operator Three UK is making news once again, but this time the wireless carrier is making waves about what it views as unfairness about the terms of the upcoming 5G spectrum auction. The company's CEO, Dave Dyson, has even gone so far as to threaten a legal campaign in an attempt to stop the auction from moving forward if the rules aren't changed. Dyson already made his concerns evident after the company failed to merge with O2 back in mid-2016. More specifically, he believes the Office of Communications (Ofcom) failed to ensure enough safeguards to protect the interests of the smaller service providers. The auction itself is currently set to take place in the second half of 2017.
Considering the spectrum holdings of Three's competition, Dyson's comments aren't without some merit. At the moment, BT owns 45 percent of the spectrum, Vodafone and 02 are holding 28 percent and 15 percent, respectively, and Three is left with just 12 percent. Ofcom has previously explained its plans to limit how much of the 2.3GHz band BT can buy at the auction, but the wireless service provider will still be able to bid in the auction for spectrum in the 3.4 GHz band. Three UK, Dyson says, wants the regulatory commission to cap what any company can own at 30 percent of the country's total available spectrum. That would put BT out of the auction entirely and severely limit Vodafone, paving the way to a more level playing field, Dyson believes. The company also recently acquired the broadband provider Relish and is waiting for clearance to absorb UK Broadband — an operator with significant holdings in the 5G-compatible spectrum — in a further attempt to improve its standing in the market.
However, Dyson's concerns could also be a bit of an overreaction, according to Three's competitors. In response to his statements, spokespersons of other wireless carriers in the country pointed out that because Three is a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based CK Hutchison, it can receive the financial backing to compete in the auction more aggressively. More importantly, any decision about whether or not to take legal action outlined above will likely have to come from CK Hutchinson rather than from Dyson.