The new consortium includes Three, TalkTalk, CityFibre, Federation of Communication Services, Gamma and Relish and is leading a campaign to ensure that there is more competition in the UK mobile space which will in turn encourage better customer service, lower prices and more choices to customers. The next batch of mobile spectrum auction is about to commence, and the consortium wants mobile phone users to petition to Sharon White, CEO at Ofcom, to ensure that no mobile network can own any more than 30% of UK's mobile airwaves. People can do so by either visiting MakeTheAirFair.org or by tweeting with the hashtag #TellSharon.
EE, Vodafone top P3 performance benchmarking tests
At the moment, BT, including it's subsidiary EE and Vodafone together own around 75% of UK's airwaves, which the consortium claims damages competition and makes the game unfair. To compete effectively, no network should be allowed to dominate and caps should be implemented to ensure all networks get a piece of the pudding and compete on an equal footing. "Spectrum has the single biggest impact on a network’s ability to offer a fast, reliable mobile service at a price that consumers can afford," it said.
“The UK mobile market is broken at a critical time when it should be leading and not lagging almost all other developed countries. Ofcom must prove it is on the side of consumers and apply a 30% cap on total spectrum ownership following next year’s auction. Spectrum is a national asset that should benefit every citizen. If it’s all controlled by one or two massive businesses then you can’t have effective competition and everyone loses out. This is the moment for the British public to stand up and fight for real choice and better mobile services,” said Dave Dyson, CEO at Three UK.
Ironically, a £10.3bn merger between Three and O2 was blocked earlier this year by the EU citing concerns that the merger would result in higher prices, less choices for consumers, would negatively affect quality of service for UK consumers and leave fewer carriers to host MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) in their networks. Three had promised to implement a five-year freeze in prices while pouring in billions of pounds in investments, but Competition Commissioner Margareth Vestager was unmoved.
Sky to launch new mobile phone service using O2's network
However, Three and other networks have a point here. A couple of networks owning three-fourths of the country's airwaves surely inhibits competition and the consortium claims that only Thailand and Malaysia have a larger imbalance of airwaves compared to the UK. Via advertisements through various channels, the consortium hopes to turn Sharon White as the champion for UK consumers and as a promoter of fair competition. Will millions of petitions and opinion polls help her make up her mind? It may not be so simple as it sounds.
Three today announced that its MakeTheAirFair campaign has been quite a success, securing over 100,000 signatures from the general public in support of the campaign. The network reiterated that the aim of the campaign is to set the air waves imbalance right as too much ownership of any particular network affects competition and pricing at the same time.
"The fact that so many members of the public have joined the MakeTheAirFair campaign and responded to Ofcom’s consultation shows that consumers are concerned about the massive imbalance in ownership of the nation’s airwaves. Our research, conducted in partnership with YouGov, has shown that over 60% of UK consumers fear that reduced competition between service providers will lead to increased prices. Ofcom needs to act on these concerns," said Dave Dyson, CEO at Three.
“UK mobile customers face higher prices, slower speeds and worse coverage in future. Ofcom has the power to change this and we want Sharon White to act decisively and put customers first,” he added.
A study commissioned by the National Infrastructure Commission in 2016 revealed that Britain ranks 54th in the world in terms of 4G mobile coverage and that 4G coverage here is worse than Romania and Albania, Panama and Peru. "Our roads and railways can feel like digital deserts and even our city centres are plagued by not spots where connectivity is impossible. That isn’t just frustrating, it is increasingly holding British business back as more and more of our economy requires a connected workforce," said the report.
The Commission believes that given that 93% of adults in the UK now own mobile phones, it becomes imperative that 4G coverage should be made available to all to ensure people can stay connected and conduct business smoothly at all times. The Commission believes that while efforts should be made to ensure effective deployment of 5G in the future, "none of this will matter unless we bring our mobile network up to speed. The existing system does not provide the level of coverage we will need in our connected future. We need a new universal service obligation which ensures that the mobile essentials – like text, talk and data – are available to us wherever we need them.
Availability of massive mobile spectrum in a network's hands can also turn out to be beneficial for consumers. Having merged with BT, EE now claims that it will offer super fast 4G coverage to 99.8 per cent of the population in the next four years. Using BT's fibre broadband links, EE switched on its 4G services in distant regions like Shetland and the Isles of Scilly which are almost 1,000 miles apart.
EE has also enabled Voice over LTE in cities like London, Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast, Leeds and Newcastle and is building 750 new sites across the country to plug 'not-spots' in areas where 4G services are already active. EE has also recently switched on it's 800 MHz frequency 4G signal to increase it's 4G coverage to 75% of the country's landmass, a feat no other network can claim at the moment.