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Three says UK 5G rollout in danger unless ‘mast monopoly’ is stopped

Three has claimed that a deal which would give one company control of thousands of mobile masts will ‘hinder’ the rollout of 5G in the UK.

Earlier this month, Arqiva, the company which owns and operates the UK’s digital TV infrastructure as well as mobile masts, had agreed to sell roughly 7400 cell towers to Cellnex for £2bn.

The deal would see Spain-based Cellnex become the biggest independent operator of cell towers in the UK, a situation which Three, the UK’s smallest network in terms of subscribers, says will effectively create a monopoly.

This, Three argues, would stall investment in 5G services, as Cellnex would be able to name its price for access to its sites – previously, Three said it had been able to negotiate lower rates while Arqiva and Cellnex were competitors.

Related: What is 5G?

In a statement sent to the Telegraph, a Three spokesperson said: “The proposed acquisition of Arqiva’s telecoms business by Cellnex threatens to hinder the UK’s position in the global 5G race giving Cellnex control of over 80pc of independent mobile sites in the UK.

“At a time when operators are focused on deploying 5G as quickly as possible, the creation of a new monopoly may increase the costs of rollout, reducing investment in the UK’s digital infrastructure, negatively impacting consumers.”

The news comes in the wake of a £1bn deal aimed to close the UK’s 4G not-spots was agreed by the UK government and the UK’s main mobile networks – EE, O2, Vodafone, and Three.

In July this year, O2 and Vodafone agreed on a mast-sharing plan which will see the two networks install 5G radio equipment on a combined total of 2700 cell towers, building on an existing agreement which sees reciprocal access to around 16,000 sites for provision of 2G, 3G, and 4G services.

EE, which launched 5G services in six UK cities in May this year, aims to have 5G gear installed in roughly 1500 sites by the end of 2019.

Three has not mentioned how many sites it intends to install 5G equipment so far, but says that 25 UK cities will benefit from some 5G coverage by the year’s end.

While Three’s 5G services are live in a handful of areas right now, there’s a catch – for now, you can only order a HomeFi Unlimited service from Three which costs £264 for 12 months of service, and this is only available in certain parts of London.

Phones including the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and Huawei Mate 20 X 5G are being sold on ‘5G Ready’ contracts now, but you won’t be able to access those faster speeds until later on.

The network has now called on UK competition watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to intervene.

“The Competition and Markets Authority needs to ensure the transaction does not compromise the UK’s objective to be a world leader in 5G,” Three’s spokesperson added.

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