Three has made no secret about how it feels about Ofcom's handling of 4G and 5G spectrum auctions, and now it's finally going beyond mere words. It's actually planning to sue the regulator if it doesn't change what the network sees as anti-competitive auction rules.
Basically Three wants to limit the amount of mobile spectrum each network can purchase in the next auction, because they believe the current rules give an unfair advantage to networks that have Scrooge McDuck-piles of cash lying around. The rules for the next auction place a limit on 37 per cent of what's available, while Three wants it capped at 30 per cent.
Three has now sent Ofcom a letter notifying it that the network intends to seek a judicial review. It's not much more than another threat, but it does show that Three is willing to take things much further.
The whole issue stems from the fact that Three only owns 15 per cent of the mobile spectrum, compared to BT's 47, Vodafone's 29, and O2's 14. Since the O2/Three merger was blocked by the EU, the only way both networks can actually get more spectrum (which Three claims is essential to improve services) is to buy it at auction. The only problem there is that not everyone has those big pools of money lying around.
O2 has also urged Ofcom to reconsider the 37 per cent cap, though it hasn't been quite as loud about it as Three. In fact, O2 says it would be happy if Ofcom only lowered the cap to 35 per cent.
Ofcom has already said that BT will be barred from bidding on anymore of the 2.5GHz spectrum, which is immediately usable 4G. The next auction, which has already been delayed from 2015 thanks to the potential Three/O2 merger, is for the 3.4GHz band (earmarked for 5G), which is completely new terrain for everyone.
Three has a point though. BT managed to acquire a massive amount of spectrum when it purchased EE, and the fact that it's such a big player in the telecoms field means it there's more money available to buy more. Would you like to be forced to get your contract with EE just to get decent signal or data speeds?