Final Ofcom 4G Auction Timetable Paves Way For May 2013 Launch

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined
as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Bidding in the “the largest ever sale of mobile airwaves in the UK” will start in January

Ofcom has published the final regulations and timetable for the delayed auction of 4G spectrum, with a view to launching LTE services by June 2013 at the latest.

The communications regulator detailed the Ofcom 4G auction process today,calling it “the largest ever sale of mobile airwaves in the UK.” Reserve prices for the different lots of spectrum have been confirmed at a combined total of £1.3 billion.

EE launched the first commercial 4G service in the UK last month by using its existing 1800MHz spectrum, but the Ofcom 4G auction of additional mobile spectrum will pave the way for other major operators to offer similar services.

Ofcom 4G auction details

4G © De Mango Shutterstock 2012Prospective bidders must submit their applications to Ofcom together with an initial deposit by 11 December, with applications reviewed later that month. Accepted applicants will bid in January, with the process taking place over a number of weeks on secure Internet connections and specially-developed software.

Bidders will be informed what they have won and how much they will have to pay in February or March, with licenses granted during that period. Finally, 4G services are expected to go live in either May or June.

“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.” said Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive. “The entire industry is now focused on the auction itself, with a shared goal of delivering new and improved mobile services for consumers.”

Competitive environment

EE’s network is currently only available in ten cities, while its relatively expensive pricing has attracted criticism. CEO Olaf Swantee has defended his company’s strategy, but it is hoped the the launch of 4G services by all major operators will improve competition.

Ofcom’s decision to allow EE to operate 4G services ahead of the spectrum provoked anger amongst its rivals, which threatened legal action that would delay the process even further. However, peace talks brought the auction timetable forward by five months after Ofcom secured the early release of analogue television spectrum.

The launch of 4G services forms part of the government’s wider plan to have the best broadband in Europe by 2015. There have been calls for the money from the auction to be reinvested in science and technology, but communications minister Ed Vaizey has said the money will go straight to the treasury and is not allocated for any specific purpose.

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