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.
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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.
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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.
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.