No one said auctioning-off spectrum for the rollout of 4G in the UK would be simple, but it’s getting pretty damn complicated that’s for sure. We’ve already heard that Everything Everywhere could bog it all down with litigation should it be in-the-clear for its 1800MHz 3G to 4G switch. Now Three, Britain’s smallest network, is frightened it’s going to get squeezed-out of the better 800MHz band, and so is threatening legal action of its own should Ofcom not do something more to help it out.

The thing is Ofcom’s already said that it’ll hold back one chunk of spectrum in either the 800 or 2600MHz band for a “fourth player” under draft rules for the auction. That means that Vodafone, Everything Everywhere and O2 will all have to duke it out amongst themselves for the rest of the spectrum allocation. Three, or someone else presumed to be smaller than the "big three", would be able to then nab a bit of the allocated 4G spectrum without getting out-bid by the big boys.

Three’s Hong Kong-based tycoon-of-a-backer, Li Ka Shing, said that without spectrum in the 800MHz band, Three wouldn’t be viable. That may be, and Three might be smaller by customer number, but at least Vodafone thinks Three isn’t short of a bob or two:

“3 is backed by a multibillion-pound business the size of Barclays bank so has plenty of resources to take part in a fair and open auction.”

What a mess this could all turn out to be. We’re already very late on getting 4G up-and-running here in Blighty, and at this rate we could be the last in Europe – leagues behind the US and Germany. Whether or not Everything Everywhere gets the green light over its 4G plans for the end of the year, 2013 looks like it’s going to be mighty interesting as the UK’s networks lock-horns and tussle over position and spectrum pecking order. I wouldn’t want to be Ofcom stuck in the middle of this massive potential mess. [The Guardian]

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