Three boss Dyson demands regulation rethink on spectrum allocation


Dyson says caps on spectrum actions must be introduced after accusing rivals of stockpiling

Three has launched a scathing attack on regulator Ofcom claiming its current rules on bidding for spectrum is wrecking competition in the UK market.

The sensational outburst came from Three CEO Dave Dyson during a media briefing in London this month, where he also accused its cash-rich rivals EE and Vodafone of acquiring more 4G spectrum than they need purely to put their rivals at a “significant disadvantage.”

“BT/EE and Vodafone are currently sitting on spare spectrum,” said Dyson. “There was strategic bidding during the 4G auction (2013) and obviously an incentive to deny ourselves and O2 from that opportunity for capacity growth and performance improvement.

“The UK has got the most imbalanced spectrum distribution of any developed country in the world and it’s not a great place to be.”

“This is a major issue for the UK market and its consumers. Spectrum is the foundation and oxygen that we all need to compete – if you haven’t got broad compatibility on it, then you are not going to be able to compete in the same way.“

A riled Dyson has called on Ofcom to put a cap in place so that no network can own more than 30 per cent of airwaves when the next auction for 2.3GHz-3.4GHz spectrum takes place next year.

He claimed that following EE’s £12.5 billion sale to BT, EE and Vodafone account for more than 70 per cent of available spectrum between them. Meanwhile O2 and Three, which were refused a merger by the European Commission in May on grounds that it would harm competition, currently occupy just 14 per cent and 15 per cent respectively.

However, he admits he has his doubts as to whether Ofcom will actually impose such restrictions, claiming it has a poor track record when it comes to making decisions that could benefit UK consumers.

Ofcom will undergo a consultation process in the coming weeks with involved parties to invite feedback on how the next auction is conducted and is calling on those in the industry to support its request.

“It is really important we try to get some support to give Ofcom more confidence to be able to make the right decision, so the future of the UK mobile market is much more competitive,” said Dyson. However, Ofcom’s track record is pretty poor and there is little evidence of it ever supporting the consumer.”

“Ofcom have told the EC they will introduce competition measures. I’m confident this will happen; I’m just not confident they will stick their neck out far enough for that to be a bold decision that secures competition in the UK market.”

Meanwhile Vodafone and EE have however have strenuously dismissed Dyson’s accusations insisting all oprators were competing on a level playing field during the last 4G auction, implying it only has itself to blame.

“These are some pretty surprising comments from an operator which has been in the UK market for more than 15 years and has had ample opportunity as well as the financial resources to bid for spectrum when it’s become available,” said a Vodafone spokesperson.

An EE spokesperson added: “We have never stopped using our spectrum to deliver the very best network experience for customers. We pioneered 4G and we are a leader in network speeds, developing technologies to provide some of the highest ever mobile download speeds in the world.”