Mobile operator Three has warned that it may run out of network capacity by the end of 2012 if its planned spectrum auctions face further delays.

A scary prospect for Three customers, if the network's prediction comes to pass then frustration awaits as data slows and network reliability falls.

In addition to panicking that its existing spectrum will be used up, Three is concerned that its rivals, O2, Everything Everywhere and Vodafone, may try to delay the auction.

David Dyson, the CEO of Three, explains, ""There is a huge financial incentive for rival operators to delay the auction. We are worried that the other three will attempt to squeeze us out of the market."

Bullying tactics

The upcoming sale of spectrum has already been pushed back because the auction terms have been challenged by the networks, and O2 for one hasn't ruled out further complaints.

The spectrum sale, which was planned for the beginning of 2012 and has slipped to the middle of the year, will see the regulator dole out spectrum in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bandwidths.

These new areas, partly freed up by the digital TV switchover, will provide enough bandwidth for 4G and LTE networks, as well as breathing room for traditional 2G and 3G networks.

As well as doing the UK out of 4G for longer and longer, these set backs could leave Three in a sticky situation as its popular data-friendly deals are snapped up and its spectrum dwindles.