Posted 24th August 2017

Squabbles over 5G highlight benefits of satellite broadband

One of the UK’s main mobile operators, Three, has threatened to launch a legal challenge that could block the sale of airwaves needed to both improve 4G services and launch the highly anticipated 5G wireless system.

Fortunately, a genuine alternative is readily available in satellite broadband, which provides a reliable and fast connection, regardless of location and independent of the results of any future spectrum or airwaves squabbles.

The sale of a fresh batch of the 5G spectrum has already been delayed by more than a year thanks to an aborted takeover of O2. These new challenges mean that just as the launch of 4G services was delayed due to legal issues, it looks like the UK will once again be left behind, this time in the race to 5G.

An auction is set to take place later this year and currently, Ofcom plans to impose a 37% cap on the overall share of the airwaves an operator is allowed to own. Ofcom is due to sell off chunks of the airwaves in two frequency bands. As well as the 5G spectrum, which will not be compatible with smartphones until around 2020, it is auctioning a lower frequency which is already being used in 4G handsets.

Three has called for a tighter cap in a bid to prevent BT and Vodafone dominating the market and BT’s mobile arm EE is planning to argue in court that there shouldn’t be any cap at all. Dave Dyson, the chief executive of Three has said that they will go ahead with the challenge unless Ofcom acts to ensure that smaller operators aren’t pushed out of the auction:

We would have no option but to mount a legal challenge to the auction process unless Ofcom build more safeguards into the process.

O2 has also waded into the battle by joining Three in their calls for spectrum caps among the main network providers. Ofcom has already proposed barring BT from bidding for some of the spectrum in a bid to address any imbalance. Mr Dyson has argued that BT could still bid strategically and dominate the next generation of mobile telecoms. Currently, BT and EE own 45% of the country’s usable spectrum compared with just 28% for Vodafone, 15% for O2 and 12% for Three.

In response to Three’s threats, EE is planning to formally threaten Ofcom with a High Court challenge over the planned auction of radio spectrum. EE is, of course, concerned that if Three is successful, this could undermine its plans to take a lead in the roll-out of 5G technology.

The chief executive of EE, Marc Allera has commented:

We’re supportive of Ofcom’s goal to release airwaves quickly and we don’t want this challenge to slow down that process but Three’s latest action has forced our hand. This is our last resort. We’ve been consistently opposed to the cap that Three is trying to make even more restrictive.

He continued:

The UK needs continued 4G investment and a clear path to the introduction of four high quality 5G networks. We cannot risk being outperformed by countries across Europe.

O2 has appealed to Ofcom to create a leasing system that could be implemented while legal battles are being fought. History tells us that this is likely to be a lengthy, protracted process, resulting in a long wait for those hoping that the new technology will provide an imminent solution to their high-speed broadband needs.