O2 UK set to launch legal challenge over 5G auction rules

5 May 2020

An auction of 5G-suitable spectrum planned the British authorities for the latter half of 2020 could be delayed after local mobile network operator (MNO) O2 UK revealed its intention to mount a legal challenge over the rules governing the sale process.

According to The Financial Times, companies that wish to participate in the upcoming auction had been given until last week to inform telecoms regulator Ofcom whether they intended to interrupt the auction by sending a ‘letter before claim’, which would raise concerns that not been resolved during previous consultations. In that vein, the report cites ‘multiple people with direct knowledge of the situation’ as saying that O2 UK has issued such a letter to the watchdog. It is understood that the cellco’s complaint relates to a technical point about how the blocks of spectrum on offer are to be sold, with O2 reportedly calling on Ofcom to harmonise the lots of spectrum so that they are contiguous, instead of awarding blocks in fragmented slices.

With the auction having been due to take place in H2 2020 – the process is currently paused as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a specific sale date has yet to be confirmed by Ofcom – it has been suggested that a judicial review of the frequency sale plans could potentially delay the auction by up to 18 months. That said, a judicial review could still be avoided, with the report noting that the regulator has issued a short consultation period related to one aspect of the 5G auction, although it is unclear whether the scope of this will resolve O2’s concerns.

Commenting on the matter, an Ofcom spokesperson was cited as saying: ‘People and businesses need fast, reliable mobile services more than ever, so we want to auction these airwaves as soon as possible. We’re really disappointed that one operator has threatened to launch a legal dispute that could slow things down for mobile users and the economy.’ For its part, O2 declined to comment.

United Kingdom, O2 UK, Ofcom