3 accuses UK operators of conspiracy

With only seven percent of the UK market, the UK's 5th largest mobile operator, 3, is suing its rivals for up to €360 million for alleged conspiracy to shut it out of the UK market by deterring customers wanting to switch to its network.

In what could be the largest competition case of its kind when it comes to the High Court this week, the company claims that Vodafone, T-Mobile, Orange and O2 colluded to withhold details needed for potential 3 customers to move their phone numbers from existing operators. 3 also intends to accuse the four operators of abusing their dominant market position in the UK market.

The method and timeliness of switching from one operator to another has been raised with the UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, in the past by consumer groups and 3. It presently takes around five days, requiring customers to initiate the process and relies on their existing operator to provide a switching code in what is perceived as an awkward and convoluted process.

However, 3, which has struggled to make a meaningful impact on the UK market despite many industry firsts and an innovative marketing plan, is still losing money. One source involved in defending the action said that 3's suit was "a fishing exercise which abuses new court rules on preaction disclosure. If this is allowed, we would have to search papers, copies of emails and other documents that stretch miles high."

For more on this story : The Times