Going to Court over Spectrum – A Never Ending Story

When it comes to LTE, the UK has significantly fallen behind compared to other countries in Europe that have long auctioned or assigned their spectrum for LTE in the 800 and 2600 MHz ranges. One major issue in the UK is that whenever rules for the auction were discussed there was always someone who was unhappy and threatened to go to court over the matter.

Recently, Ofcom has unveiled yet another set of rules and again the threat of going to court is being raised. But seriously, with at least four incumbent contenders for spectrum each having quite a different amount of spectrum in different parts of the frequency range I think it's almost inevitable someone will be unhappy. And even if it is only for the sake of slowing down the process because one company or another doesn't want to invest and tries to prevent others from doing so, either.

But it has been been like that forever. While four UK companies are battling over 250 MHz worth of spectrum today, court threats have been in the room even back in the 1980's when a battle ranged over just 3 MHz of spectrum between Vodafone and BT. For all the juicy details have a look at 'GSM History' by Stephen Temple where he lays it out in minute detail in Chapter 14.

If someone went to court over the matter, the UK would be in good company. In other countries, such as for example Germany, court actions over 800 MHz spectrum were also no exception. Half a year before the 'LTE' auction in Germany, incumbents O2 and E-Plus went to court over the matter. For details (in German) see here and here. In the end their complaints were dismissed and the auction took place.

Hopefully with a couple of hundred pages to justify the rules of the UK auction, the same will happen in the UK as another delay to the auction process will throw back the UK even more than the three years they are already late to LTE. Sometimes I wonder how this could all have happened!? Back in the 1980's the UK was the first European country to liberalize the telecoms market with stunningly positive effects. 30 years later they have not only lost the lead but are hopelessly behind most other countries in Europe. Perhaps it's time to settle this in court and get on with it.