Vodafone UK said legal opposition to a proposed spectrum auction in the country would “unnecessarily delay” the process, as 3 UK formally launched a court challenge.

As expected, 3 formally filed its challenge to regulator Ofcom’s proposed auction of 4G and 5G spectrum, after notifying the regulator last month of its intention to seek a judicial review in the UK’s High Court.

3’s move kicks off a three-month review, pushing the sale of spectrum and allocation into early 2018, and further delaying an auction initially scheduled to be held at the end of this year.

The company argued its challenge will not interfere with the commercial launch of 5G in the UK, which is expected in 2020, but rival Vodafone slammed the move.

“This is not in the interest of consumers and will undermine the UK’s efforts to be a leading digital economy,” Vodafone told the Financial Times (FT).

Competitive caps
3 has long threatened legal action against the auction unless a 30 per cent spectrum cap is introduced to limit the power of Vodafone and BT-owned EE. The operator, the UK’s smallest, argues Ofcom is failing to address competition concerns with its auction rules.

Ofcom proposed a spectrum cap of 37 per cent, as well as pushing other measures to limit BT and Vodafone’s involvement in certain bands, but 3 argues the regulator is not going far enough.

“We can confirm that we have filed a judicial review before the UK courts in relation to the competition measures that will apply in the upcoming auction,” a 3 UK company representative told FT.

“It is absolutely vital that the regulator gets this auction right for the long term benefit of all consumers,” the representative added.

Ofcom echoed Vodafone’s comments, stating the litigation would harm: “consumers, businesses and ultimately the UK economy. It is now crucial that companies don’t drag their feet, so the case can be heard as soon as possible”.

According to FT, EE could also file a judicial review against the auction, but still has a number of weeks to do so.

EE is reportedly threatening legal action against any spectrum cap being introduced.