Commercial interests must not derail the “golden opportunity” offered by 5G, Ofcom chief executive Sharon White (pictured) said as she defended proposed spectrum caps and criticised upcoming legal action.

In a letter published in Financial Times, White warned ongoing litigation would “inevitably” delay the UK deriving the full benefits of 5G, even with the legal action being fast-tracked through the courts.

Ofcom originally aimed to complete its latest auction by the end of this year, covering some airwaves earmarked for 5G along with LTE-ready spectrum. A further process was scheduled for 2018 or 2019.

Following legal action from 3 UK and EE against the proposed auction rules, a case will be heard in the courts for three days from 5 December. If Ofcom loses it will have to rewrite its guidelines, which could further delay the process.

In the letter, White wrote: “The regulator’s job is to lay the foundations for companies to compete and invest. At Ofcom we take decisions in the interests of consumers and businesses, mindful of ensuring that industry has confidence to put money in and make a return.”

“Those foundations must underpin a level playing field. But in the mobile phone sector that does not mean everyone having the same share of the airwaves that power portable devices.”

Legal wrangling
Ofcom published its plan for upcoming auctions in February, amid pressure from 3 and Telefonica-backed campaign Make the Air Fair to impose caps of 30 per cent on the amount of spectrum each operator could hold.

In its proposal, the regulator instead imposed a cap of 37 per cent and introduced specific measures to limit the participation of the UK’s largest spectrum holders Vodafone and EE.

Following the announcement, EE and 3 launched separate legal cases. CK Hutchison-owned 3 claims the cap doesn’t address the allocation imbalance in the country sufficiently, while BT brand EE wants the cap removed completely.

Action by other operators then saw Vodafone UK wade into the row, criticising the pair for delaying the auction process.

On announcing its legal bid, 3 said it would have no impact on the timeline for consumer availability of 5G.