Bidding in the UK’s planned auction of spectrum for fourth generation (4G) mobile will get underway in January, with the new services expected to launch in summer 2013.
Ofcom will oversee the sale of the largest amount of spectrum in the British history, enabling more mobile operators to offer 4G services to consumers.
As more and more people use mobile devices connected to the internet every day, it is considered vital that the UK upgrades to a faster network technology.
4G offers speeds on smartphones and tablets comparable with home broadband connections. It is also more ideally suited to high-bandwidth data services, such as streaming high-quality video, watching live TV or downloading large files.
Ofcom expects that a typical 4G user will get a download speed of around 5-7 times faster than existing 3G networks. This means that a music album will take around 3 minutes to download on a 4G phone, compared to 20 minutes on 3G.
Existing 3G speeds are around 1Mbps, and the average 4G speed is around 6Mbps, although the network technology can go much higher depending on a number of variables, such as distance to the cell tower.
EE, the joint venture of Orange and T-Mobile, is already offering 4G mobile to consumers after repurposing its existing 1800MHz spectrum.
The company is retailing a number of 4G phones, such as the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3, along with 4G contracts, although the service is only available currently in 11 cities (with plans to extend to 17 by the end of the year).
Ofcom will oversee the sale of the 800MHz spectrum that was previously used for analogue television in the UK, and the 2.6GHz band, so that other providers can get into the 4G market.
The new spectrum will be used to deliver superfast 4G mobile speeds to people in cities, towns and villages across the UK, with 98% coverage expected in 2014/15.
Ofcom has said that December 11, 2012, is the provisional deadline for the submission of applications and an initial deposit from prospective bidders, such as O2 and Vodafone.
The regulator will then qualify the applications to determine who will be permitted to take part in the auction, before the bidding begins in January 2013.
Bidding could take “a number of weeks” and it will be run online over software built specifically for the auction.
Winners will be handed 4G licences in February/March, and it is expected that new services will be launched in May/June.
Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said: “Today marks an important shift from preparation to the delivery of the auction, which will see widespread 4G mobile services from a range of providers. “The entire industry is now focused on the auction itself, with a shared goal of delivering new and improved mobile services for consumers.” Ofcom has set the reserve price for the spectrum that is being auctioned at a combined today of £1.3 billion, although it is thought that the sale will actually bring in more than £4bn for the UK government.