3 UK confirmed plans to appeal a court decision to reject its challenge against regulator Ofcom regarding the structure of a planned spectrum auction, while dismissing claims the move will delay the country’s 5G rollout.

Yesterday (20 December), the UK’s High Court ruled in favour of Ofcom, dismissing challenges by 3 and EE regarding the regulator’s plans to impose a cap on the amount of spectrum an individual operator can hold. The ruling cleared the way for Ofcom to press on with the auction process in 2018.

Both 3 and BT-owned EE launched legal cases against the auction on different grounds this year, with CK Hutchison-owned 3 arguing a planned 37 per cent cap does not go far enough to address the allocation imbalance in the UK. EE, meanwhile argued there should be no cap at all.

In a statement to Mobile World Live (MWL) 3 confirmed media reports it would challenge the decision. The company also rubbished suggestions from Ofcom and rivals O2 UK and Vodafone UK it was delaying the country’s 5G roll-out by launching legal challenges.

The planned auction will cover the sale of airwaves earmarked for 5G, along with LTE-ready spectrum.

“We are disappointed by the initial ruling of the court as a fairer distribution of spectrum is vital for UK consumers and the digital economy,” a 3 representative told MWL: “The team at 3 is committed to providing the best possible offering for our customers and we are seeking permission to challenge the ruling in the Court of Appeal urgently. Ofcom does not not expect 5G to roll out in the UK until 2019/20 at the earliest, so this will have no impact on the delivery of this new technology.”

EE reaction
On the contrary, fellow challenger EE appears to have accepted the decision. A representative told MWL the operator was “pleased the court has reached a decision so quickly and are now looking ahead to investing in the best mobile experience across the UK”.

3’s decision to appeal is no doubt set to irk its other rivals, Vodafone and O2. Vodafone hit out at the the original challenge, while O2 issued a statement responding to press reports regarding 3’s appeal, noting the operator had its day in court and lost “so we are frustrated by reports that they may seek to appeal the judgement.”

Ofcom said after the High Court’s ruling it planned to hold the auction “as quickly as possible”.