UK regulator Ofcom brushed-off pending litigation from 3 UK and laid out a timeline for the start of the auction process for 4G- and 5G-ready spectrum.

The regulator said 3’s actions were continuing to delay benefits for consumers and businesses, while confirming it would begin preliminary auction proceedings ahead of a Court of Appeal hearing.

Ofcom will publish its regulations for the auction of spectrum in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands on 24 January, with details on when applications can be made expected a week later. It will then begin qualifying bidders as applications are received, but added it would not formally accept companies until after the court’s decision.

The Court of Appeal is set to hear 3’s case on 13 and 14 February, after the operator lost its original litigation against Ofcom’s proposals for the allocation of spectrum in December 2017.

Ofcom had intended to hold the auction in Autumn 2017, but rules on operator spectrum caps provoked the ire of 3 and EE, which both took cases to the high court. 3 claimed the limits proposed were too high and favoured the larger operators, while EE argued there should be no cap at all.

All challenges were rejected and EE subsequently dropped its objection.

“The litigation by Three is continuing to delay access to the spectrum,” Ofcom stated: “Ofcom considers that it is in the public interest for the auction to take place as soon as possible, in light of the significant and immediate demand for access to the spectrum, and the immediate and direct benefits to consumers of faster, higher quality mobile data services that can be offered using the spectrum.”

It added should the appeal be accepted, it would change regulations quickly to minimise further delay.