LONDON, Sept 6 Britain's smallest mobile network
operator, Three, wants the regulator to rein in market leader EE
by setting a 30 percent cap on the proportion of airwaves
an operator can own.
Such a move would boost competition in a market that
delivers "mediocre" service to customers, it said on Tuesday.
The operator, owned by Hong Kong's CK Hutchison Holdings
, said it needed more spectrum to grow its customer
base and offer bigger bundles of data, a strategy it is pursuing
after its merger with Telefonica's O2 was blocked by EU
regulators in May.
EE, owned by BT, has 42 percent of the spectrum
currently available, while Vodafone has 29 percent and
O2 and Three have 14 percent and 15 percent respectively, Three
British competition authorities waved through BT's
acquisition of EE in January without making BT sell any of its
combined spectrum, to the surprise of some in the industry.
Three UK's Chief Executive David Dyson said he wanted
regulator Ofcom to impose the 30 percent cap at the next
auction, expected next year, as it would provide better balance
in a market with four operators.
"All operators other than EE-BT are below that 30 percent
cap right now," he told reporters on Tuesday. EE should not be
precluded from bidding, he said, but it should be required to
sell some of its existing portfolio if it wanted to buy new
Dyson also said EE and Vodafone were not using all the
spectrum they owned, which he said indicated that they bought
the airwaves in order to deny Three or O2 capacity.
Vodafone, however, said Three had not faced any barriers in
"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," a Vodafone spokesman
EE, which unveiled faster network technology for the latest
smartphones on Tuesday, said it used all its spectrum to the
benefit of customers.
"We pioneered 4G and we are a leader in network speeds," a
"We are unique in our commitment to expand 4G coverage to 95
percent of the UK's landmass by 2020, further than any other UK
network has done, and will continue to ensure the UK stays at
mobile technology's leading edge."
An Ofcom spokesman said the regulator planed to publish a
consultation in the autumn, which would set out its plans for
the next auction of spectrum, of 2.3-3.4 GHz.
Dyson said Three was performing as well as it could with the
assets it had, pointing to a 12 percent rise in first-half
earnings to 348 million pounds and a 2 percent rise in customer
numbers to 9.16 million.
"The industry we are operating in is pretty mediocre, and
therefore if we can perform in that environment then we should
take market share," Dyson said.
(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Susan Fenton)