24 Jul 2012
Ofcom unveils 4G auction for high-speed mobile across the UK
British telecoms regulator Ofcom has announced that the UK's auction of spectrum for 4G mobile services will get under way by the end the year, with next-generation mobile services scheduled for roll-out in 2013.
The sale is the largest ever auction of spectrum for mobile services in the UK, some 80% bigger than the 3G auction, and offering the equivalent of three quarters of the mobile spectrum in use today.
If all goes to plan, the auction will see 4G services - including high-speed data speeds for mobile Internet - reaching at least 98% of the nation, claims the regulator.
To ensure competition, Ofcom will reserve some of the available spectrum for a fourth national wholesaler, other than the three largest mobile operators. This could be either Hutchinson 3G or a new entrant altogether, says Ofcom.
"The 4G auction has been designed to deliver the maximum possible benefit to consumers and citizens across the UK," said Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive. "As a direct result of the measures Ofcom is introducing, consumers will be able to surf the web, stream videos and download email attachments on their mobile device from almost every home in the UK."
The 4G auction will offer at least two spectrum bands – 800MHz and 2.6GHz. The lower frequency 800MHz band is part of the ‘digital dividend’, which is ideal for widespread mobile coverage while the higher frequency 2.6GHz band is ideal for delivering the capacity needed to deliver faster speeds.
These two bands add up to 250MHz of additional mobile spectrum, compared to 333MHz in use today.
The spectrum bands will be auctioned to bidders as a series of lots. One of the 800MHz lots of spectrum will carry an obligation to provide a mobile broadband service for indoor reception to at least 98% of the UK population by the end of 2017 at the latest.
Ofcom intends to hold the auction as soon as possible, and is now publishing a legal draft document of the auction rules. The regulator expects the auction process to start before the end of this year, with prospective bidders required formally to apply to take part. Those applications will then be assessed by Ofcom before the bidding phase starts, likely to be in early 2013.
Mobile operators are expected to start rolling out 4G networks using the auctioned spectrum from the middle of 2013, and to start offering 4G services to consumers later that year.
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