City firms battle for global mobile licence

Field Fisher Waterhouse and Simmons & Simmons are battling for their clients to take a slice of five universal mobile telecommunications services licences, worth a total of £1.5bn.

The Department of Trade and Industry, advised by Allen & Overy, launched the bidding process for the lucrative licences by announcing timetable details for the auction process last week.

It is understood that Field Fisher Waterhouse was one of five firms which tendered for the work to advise Orange on its bid. Orange's main law firms are Linklaters & Alliance, Baker & McKenzie, Bevan Ashford, Burges Salmon and Slaughter and May, used in connection with Mannesmann's £19.8bn bid for the company last month.

Simmons & Simmons is acting for One-2-One, another contender for the licenses. The firm also went through a tendering process to secure the work.

Paul Brisby, in-house regulatory counsel at One-to-One, says: “We chose Simmons & Simmons after going through a rigorous selection process, taking pitches from about five firms.”

Brisby says: “No-one knows how many people are bidding yet. There may be up to 26 bidders. This is the first time there has been a spectrum auction in the UK.”

Tony Ballard, head of communications law at Field Fisher Waterhouse, declines to comment on how the firm secured the work for Orange. He says: “This is premier league stuff. People are keeping their cards close to their chest.”

Other bidders for the licences are believed to be Vodafone, BT Cellnet and France Telecom through its UK partner NTL.

The Lawyer understands that Bird & Bird is advising one of the bidders. However David Kerr, head of communications law at Bird & Bird, refuses to disclose which one.

Ballard says the first licence is reserved for a new entrant to the market to give that company a head start. It has the highest reserve price of £125m. The second licence has a reserve price of £107.1m and the remaining three licences are worth £89.3m each.

Telecoms companies have until 12 January to bid for the five 20-year licences, due to be auctioned in March and awarded in June.