T-Mobile and Orange received European Commission (EC) clearance for their British wireless joint venture on Monday after the partners agreed to concessions intended to resolve concerns over their joint control of GSM spectrum and the ability of smaller competitors to access the companies’ combined network. Through the 50-50 joint venture, Orange and T-Mobile (which rank respectively as the third and fourth-largest wireless carriers in the United Kingdom) would leapfrog O2 as the largest mobile telephony operator in the U.K. with a 37% share of the market. The companies maintain that the merger will give them the scale needed to compete effectively in a saturated British market in which a large number of wireless resellers operate. Opponents have, however, voiced concern over the venture’s unfettered control of GSM spectrum in the 1800 MHz band, claiming that, in years to come, that spectrum could give the combined entity a choke-hold over the U.K. market for high-speed mobile data services. To alleviate these fears, Orange and T-Mobile told the EC they would voluntarily divest two 15 MHz paired blocks of 1800 MHz spectrum by the end of 2011, representing a 25% chunk of the parties’ combined holdings in that band. In consenting to the joint venture, the EC conditioned approval on that commitment as well as upon a further condition that requires Orange and T-Mobile to work out a network infrastructure sharing agreement with Hutchison Whampoa’s 3, the smallest of the U.K. national wireless operators. The concessions were enough to convince the U.K. Office of Fair Trading to withdraw the request it recently filed with the EC to conduct its own investigation into the deal. Consumer groups in the U.K., however, were not satisfied, as they accused the EC of clearing the transaction with “indecent haste.” Officials of Orange and T-Mobile said they would begin to integrate their operations immediately, with closing of the transaction anticipated this spring.