EE and 3 UK lost a legal challenge against regulator Ofcom regarding the structure of a planned spectrum auction, paving the way for the watchdog to press on with the process.

BT-owned EE and 3 launched separate legal cases against the auction, which was originally set to take place by the year end, over a proposal to cap the amount of spectrum each operator in the country could hold at 37 per cent. CK Hutchison-owned 3 claimed the cap did not go far enough in addressing the allocation imbalance in the country, while EE wanted the cap removed completely.

Ofcom chief Sharon White said the legal action would inevitably delay the UK’s 5G launch, as the proposed auction is set to cover some airwaves earmarked for the technology along with LTE-ready spectrum. However, after securing a favourable decision from the UK’s High Court ruled following a judicial review, with an Ofcom representative said it will “now proceed with the auction as quickly as possible”.

“Our priority has always been to release these airwaves as soon as possible so customers can get more reliable phone reception,” the representative added.

Financial Times reported 3 is most likely to fight the ruling, given its very vocal stance on the need for stricter caps to reduce the dominance of its larger rivals.

Telefonica-owned O2 UK welcomed the ruling, stating it was “now imperative that the industry does everything possible to avoid further delays to the spectrum auction”. Telefonica UK CEO Mark Evans called on Ofcom “to move forward and set a date for the auction as soon as possible.”

Vodafone UK had also criticised 3 and EE for delaying the auction process.