Pressure was mounting on telecoms regulators last night to organise a quick auction of rights to the airwaves, as fears grew that a court clash between mobile operators will delay investments in better networks.
Mark Evans, chief executive of O2, backed a call by rival EE for Ofcom to press ahead with a big money sale of radio spectrum that could be used to bolster coverage immediately.
EE on Sunday revealed plans to take the regulator to the High Court over restrictions the share of airwaves it is allowed to buy at frequencies suitable for future 5G networks. It made the threat after Three launched its own action in a bid to impose a tighter cap.
EE, which is owned by BT and has a bigger share of radio spectrum than its rivals, said it would not seek to bid and not stand in the way of a quick sale of frequencies ready for use in existing 4G networks, however.
Mr Evans said the move clears the way for Ofcom to act. O2 has the smallest share of radio spectrum, the raw material needed to serve rocketing demand for data on the move.
Its parent company, the Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica, is also seeking to float part of its UK business and uncertainty over its rights to the airwaves is seen as an obstacle by investors.
Mr Evans said: “What’s become clear in the last 24 hours is that the entire industry is aligned that there is no reason this can’t go ahead.
“The 5G spectrum is contested and it looks like we’re going to court, but there is spectrum that can be deployed now.
“The ball is in Ofcom’s court and it is incumbent upon them to act.”
The regulator would need to abandon plans to auction off 4G and 5G airwaves together. Mr Evans claimed a new sale of immediately usable spectrum could be finalised “within a few weeks”.
He also criticised claims by Three that its court action will cause only a few months of delays to the development of 5G networks, claiming that would only be possible if it loses the case.
Mr Evans said: “Ifthey have any chance of winning we are into a year or more of delays.”