The CEO and CFO of Three UK used a first meeting with the press since the failed merger with O2 to call out rivals, the European Commission and Ofcom for a series of perceived failings.

The mobile only operator is facing an uncertain future amid the behemoths of BT-EE and Vodafone, which is also now offering converged services.
O2’s parent Telefónica, meanwhile, is rumoured to be considering an IPO for its UK subsidiary.

Beginning with the failed O2 merger, which Brussels blocked in May on competition grounds, CEO David Dyson claimed that UK consumers had been “robbed” of what would have been “the best mobile infrastructure in Europe”.

He said: “We have to accept the decision [but] it was the wrong decision.”

Dyson revealed he felt “pressure and angst” at not being able to control the regulatory environment.

He maintained that CK Hutchison, Three’s parent, remained “a very supportive shareholder” but said that no alternative M&A options were in the pipeline and the company had to grow organically in future.

The UK arm of Three’s European empire saw revenues fall two percent to £1.05 billion in the first six months of the year, while EBITDA rose 12 percent to £348 million.

Dyson said: “I’m really excited about what we can do. The industry we operate in is pretty mediocre. If we perform in that environment then we should take market share.”

This set the tone for CFO Richard Woodward, who picked up the presentation baton and proceeded to beat Three’s rivals with it.

He claimed that Vodafone was set to unveil a series of hidden price rises next month.

He said Vodafone’s UK customers calling the US from Europe, for example, would see costs rise from 4.6p per minute to £2 per minute.

“There is no justification for this other than robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Woodward said.

The CFO then criticised rivals for “punishing” pay-as-you-go subscribers for data usage.

Citing EE as an example, he said the BT-owned company forced such customers to buy bundled tariffs to access data.

O2 was not spared either, as it was called out for topping standard roaming rates.

Woodward presented a chart that showed O2 customers could theoretically spend £6,000 for a GB of data on their standard roaming rate if there were no cap in place.

Ultimately, the CFO said he wanted to challenge the “hidden profits” across the industry.

Three UK also intends to look more at the wholesale market.

The operator has 400,000 MVNO customers out of a total subscriber base that has reached 9.6 million.

Woodward said this area was now “very important” to the company and key to this would be increasing the capacity of its network.

Dyson was keen to outline recommendations that he has made to Ofcom around capping spectrum in time for the next auction.

The regulator is set to sell 190MHz of spectrum next year.

[Read more: Three proposes spectrum cap to protect competition]

However, Dyson said his business would not “dig deep” to buy spectrum.

“You can’t buy assets at inflated prices because you’ll trash your cost structure,” he said.

According to Woodward, Three UK is the most “efficient” mobile operator in the market currently.

“Our cost efficiency is phenomenal,” he said. “The cost per customer per month has come down by £1.50 since 2012.”

Over the same period, EBITDA margin has increased from 14 percent to 33 percent.

The executives expect an overhaul of the operator’s IT infrastructure, which it is tendering for at the moment, will give it a further boost.

“In two years time we’re going to be cooking with gas in terms of having a more cost efficient, agile business,” said Dyson.

Meanwhile, the CEO said Three remained in “constructive dialogue” with Ofcom about its ad-blocking proposals, first announced in February.

Matters have been complicated by the latest net neutrality guidance from Europe, which suggested the technology could violate its proposals.

Hitting back at Three's claims, an O2 spokesperson said the operator has provisions in place to protect its customers from excessive roaming charges.

He said: "It’s a shame that Three forgot that they have some of the most expensive roaming charges, charging up to £3/min in some destinations (which is double our most expensive rate). Equally, customers of Three could theoretically rack up a bill of thousands of pounds while using their mobile abroad – they also charge £6/MB in some destinations."

A Vodafone spokesperson chose to focus on Three's complaints about spectrum, rather than allegations about price rises. He said: “These are some pretty surprising comments from an operator which has been in the UK market for more than 15 years and has had ample opportunity as well as the financial resources to bid for spectrum when it’s become available.”

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