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Vodafone fends off BT in mobile licence sale

Vodafone AirTouch wasted little time in re-establishing its lead for the most expensive licence in Britain's third-generation mobile licence auction yesterday after a brief challenge from BT.

The mobile phones giant bid £5.96bn for licence B, which offers the broadest spectrum to an existing mobile operator. BT, having bid for B earlier in the day, failed to match Vodafone and instead bid £3.9b for the narrower spectrum offered by licence D.

The auction is for five blocks of new frequencies for third-generation mobile devices, which will give fast Net access and other services. It will end when one of the six bidders still in the game quits.

The remaining players have a long Easter holiday weekend to ponder their next moves; the next round is onTuesday.

The total bids for all five licences climbed to more than £22.2bn, far exceeding expectations. NTL Mobile bid £3.97bn for licence C.

Canada's Telesystem International Wireless kept its grip on licence A with a £4.38bn bid that has not been topped since it was submitted on Monday. Orange, due to be demerged from Vodafone, is in the lead for licence E with a bid just shy of £3.95bn.

One2One will be the next company to make a move in round 146 of the bidding.