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Vodafone/Three: A Standalone Decision or A Potential Reversal of Spectrum Policy?

 |  April 30, 2024

By: Tom Smith (The Platform Law blog)

Everywhere we go, spectrum surrounds us, these unseen waves serving as the backbone for wireless communication devices. Whether it’s a mobile phone making a call, sending a text, or browsing the web, it relies on spectrum to connect to a nearby mast and fulfill its communication tasks.

However, spectrum is a finite resource. While other components of running a mobile network can be acquired—such as masts, cables, electronics, land, contracts, skilled management, branding, and even customers—spectrum cannot simply be conjured out of thin air. In the UK, its allocation is meticulously overseen by Ofcom, which authorizes and regulates its usage, taking into account the ever-increasing demand.

Currently, the four mobile network operators in the UK possess relatively similar levels of available capacity, a situation not left to chance. Ofcom has maintained this balance, believing that completely symmetrical levels could foster anti-competitive coordination, while significantly asymmetrical levels might stifle competition by rendering it futile to challenge the market leader.

As the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) proceeds with its in-depth phase 2 investigation into the Vodafone/Three merger (as discussed in a prior blog post), it will undoubtedly be mindful of any threats to competition posed by disruptions in the allocation of spectrum. Ofcom has worked diligently to preserve this equilibrium, and there are no significant spectrum auctions on the horizon…