British mobile network operators T-Mobile UK and Orange UK are not planning to relinquish any of their spectrum as part of plans to merge the two companies. The two cellcos’ respective parent companies, Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom, announced in September 2009 that they had entered exclusive negotiations aimed at merging their British operations. However, despite the fact that, when complete, the merged entity will hold a total of 170MHz of spectrum, the operators claim that there is no reason to release frequencies when the tie-up is finalised; by comparison rival cellco Vodafone holds 76MHz of spectrum, while Hutchison 3G UK has just 15MHz.
Whether or not such action will prove a regulatory headache for the two operators’ remains to be seen; as reported by CommsUpdate last month it has been claimed that a deal had been agreed between the UK government and all five of the country’s mobile network operators that would see a cap imposed on the amount of spectrum any one player can hold. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and Competition Commission are expected to decide the cap placed on the merged company’s frequencies, while the largest operator by subscribers is unlikely to be called on to free up spectrum. It has also been rumoured that in return for accepting the capping of spectrum all five cellcos may see their 3G licences extended indefinitely.