Ofcom: 4G Auction Details Revealed

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The UK will have to wait until 2013 to get the 4G mobile broadband networks already available in the United States and several other countries, after Ofcom announced the details of its spectrum auction.

The communications regulator said that the auctions for 4G spectrum will now take place in "early 2013".

However, Ofcom said that the auction schedule corresponded to its original timetable.

The Huffington Post and other publications initially reported that the schedule had been delayed, but Ofcom denies this.

It said in a statement:

"Ofcom’s statement on the 4G auction does not represent any delay; it is entirely consistent with our proposals published in January. Ofcom expects the auction process to start before the end of this year with prospective bidders required to formally apply to take part."

The auctions will decide what share of the available 800mhz and 2.6ghz spectrum is given to which network operators.

Bidders will be able to submit applications to take part by the end of 2012, but bidding will not start until next year.

Analysts said the process was still not moving quickly enough.

Thomas Wehmeier, principal analyst for Telco Strategy at Informa, said that the news would put the UK "light years" behind.

"The auction proposal set out today by Ofcom means that the UK will not see 4G LTE services go live until later in 2013 at the earliest, putting UK mobile consumers almost four years behind the world’s leading 4G markets," he said.

"Four years may not seem a significantly long period of time, but it is the equivalent of light years in the fast-paced mobile market."

Stephen Hearnden, Intellect’s director of telecommunications said: "After a number of delays it is vital that this auction does not get derailed by further litigation.

"The UK is already lagging behind in the global race to deploy 4G networks and open the way for innovative new services to be created. The USA, Germany, Sweden and parts of Asia already have 4G services which are delivering opportunities to businesses and benefits to customers."

The auction will offer the equivalent of three-quarters of the mobile spectrum currently in use - some 80% more than released in the 3G auction which took place in 2000.

The minimum sum of proposed reserve prices for the whole 4G auction is £1.4 billion - but it is expected to raise much more after the 3G sale pulled in a staggering £22.5 billion from mobile companies.

It will be the middle of 2013 at the earliest before 4G comes online in the UK - at least nine months after the release of the hotly anticipated next iPhone, expected to have LTE built in. Several other devices already available in the UK run 4G networks overseas.

Some UK operators have tested 4G in the UK and Everything Everywhere has already submitted an application to provide 4G on its existing spectrum. But with no decision on EE's proposal forthcoming, most eyes are now on the formal bidding process.

Ofcom requires one of the bidders to provide indoor 4G access to 98% of the UK population.

It has also said that some of the spectrum will be held back for a fourth carrier to enter the market, to ensure it is not dominated by existing players.

"In the interests of competition, Ofcom has decided to reserve a minimum amount of spectrum in the auction for a fourth operator. This could be either Hutchinson 3G or a new entrant altogether," Ofcom said.

That fourth operator would be in addition to Everything, Everywhere, Vodafone and Telefonica (O2).