Three research concludes more should be done to help Three

Inspired by the government’s recent posturing Three UK is having another go at making people care about its MakeTheAirFair campaign.

The latest initiative took the form of a press release entitled ‘UK consumers denied faster mobile speeds’ and is a reiteration of the core MTAF agenda, which is to persuade Ofcom to take spectrum away from EE and give it to Three. The stipulation is that EE is sitting on unused spectrum which, if redistributed, would enable other operators to significantly increase their networks’ performance.

“This research shines a light on how much quicker speeds could be for mobile consumers, if only the UK’s airwaves were shared more fairly,” said Dave Dyson, Chief Executive at Three UK. “BT/EE and Vodafone are sitting on a vital and finite public resource that should be used to deliver a faster and more stable service for customers of all mobile networks. A 30% cap on useable spectrum will deliver the best outcome for mobile users in the UK.”

The press release made no reference to any research prior to the Dyson quote, but a footnote revealed the research “…was conducted by Three’s network team which created a model based on EE and Vodafone’s unused spectrum to show what speed improvements could be gained by customers on the Three and O2 networks.” Other than that no additional methodology was offered.

The table below shows summary of the usable spectrum currently being held by the for UK operators. In response to our enquiries Three told that its model is based entirely on the 2.6 GHz band that was auctioned back in 2013, of which Three and O2 acquired none. Specifically Three has identified 60 MHz of paired, as well as 15 MHz of unpaired 2.6 spectrum owned by BTEE and 20 MHz of unpaired 2.6 owned by Vodafone as unused.

UK spectrum allocation

BTEE has so far kept quiet in the face of claims such as these but all it seems guilty of is winning an auction that, in the case of the 2.6 GHz spectrum, Three barely participated in. Three is entitled to bemoan the further consolidation of spectrum that happened after the BTEE merger, but surely the time to do that was before it was cleared.

EE recently announced it is using 2×35 MHz of 2.6 GHz spectrum to support Cat 9 devices, so it looks like it has at most 45 MHz of unused spectrum. Also the National Audit Office review of the 2013 auction concluded that Three won what little spectrum it did on the cheap (section 2.21), to the tune of £159 million less than it might have paid was the auction not designed to give it an easy ride (point 7 of the summary). So maybe it should’ve used the money it saved on some 2.6 GHz.

“In addition, our evaluation of Three’s bidding strategy suggests that it was designed to ensure that Three never paid more than the reserve price for the spectrum that had been reserved for it or new entrants to the market, and for which it knew early on in the auction that it was the only bidder,” said the review. “In our opinion it is very unlikely that the reserve price for this capacity was equal to its true value to Three’s business.”

Three may have a point about the redistribution of this spectrum but, since Ofcom has already made it clear that it doesn’t intend to do anything about it, you have to wonder why it’s persisting with this MTAF lark. Maybe it’s because making videos like the one below is just too much fun.


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