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Three: UK mobile operators’ NFC joint venture “raises serious competition concerns”

“Competition authorities in Brussels should not allow this type [of] collaboration to go forward under any circumstances,” says Three, which was not invited to be part of the UK project. “We’re asking the Commission to take a clear view of what is at stake for consumers and the dangerous precedent this move could set across Europe.”

Three

NFC JV: O2's company but 3's a crowd?

British mobile network operator Three, the only UK carrier not invited in June to take part in the creation of a UK operator-led NFC joint venture, has notified the European Commission of its concerns over both the UK plan and the implications approval of the plan would set across Europe.

Telefónica UK, Vodafone UK and Everything Everywhere, the recently created merger between the UK arms of mobile network operators Orange and T-Mobile, announced plans in June to form a joint venture company that would “deliver the technology required for the speedy adoption of mobile wallet and payments.”

“By creating this new business we will underpin this nascent market, providing real size and scale, allowing consumers to benefit from new and innovative services like the mobile wallet, and giving them more of the things they value, through offers and deals that are truly relevant to them,” explained Telefónica UK chief executive Ronan Dunne at the launch. “At the same time business customers will reach a vastly increased audience, utilising a single platform for sales, delivery and payment.”

Despite being an active member of the UK Mobile Contactless Forum, however, Three UK was not invited to take part in forming the joint venture. “As the leader in the adoption of mobile internet services in the UK we would want and expect to be at the heart of a cross-industry development like this and are more than a little concerned that — as a core competitor — we have been excluded from this joint venture,” Kevin Russell, the then chief executive of Three UK, explained at the time.

Now, Three has taken its concerns to the European Commission (EC). In a hard-hitting statement sent to NFC World, Stephen Lerner, regulatory affairs director of Three UK, says that:

The planned and explicit exclusion of Three from the proposed UK m-commerce joint venture is designed to weaken Three’s ability to be a competitive force in the UK and denies the initiative’s claimed ambition to be a ‘one stop shop’ for m-commerce.

Instead of competing for the benefit of consumers, the three operators that hold 90% of the UK market have engaged in a cosy collaboration and closed ranks against competition. The competition authorities in Brussels should not allow this type collaboration to go forward under any circumstances.

As the UK’s 3G pioneer Three’s track record of innovation in internet mobile services is clear. Excluding the maverick raises serious competition concerns. It has serious implications for both consumers and wider business as the internet continues to move mobile.

The Commission allowed last year’s consolidation in UK mobile, but kept a watching brief on further threats to consumer choice and competition in the UK.

We’re asking the Commission to take a clear view of what is at stake for consumers and the dangerous precedent this move could set across Europe for the incumbents to freeze out challengers.

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