Telecom regulator Ofcom has laid out its plans for the auction of fourth generation (4G) bandwidth for faster mobile internet across the UK, but this will not happen until 2013.


In what will be seen as another delay - having previously stated that bidding would begin in the fourth quarter of 2012 - applications from mobile phone operators to bid on 4G will be taken from the end of 2012, with bidding starting in Q1 of next year.

Ofcom added that it hopes to roll out a 4G service (using technology known as long term evolution or LTE), which will bring much faster mobile internet to much of the UK, "from the middle of 2013."

Earlier this year, Ofcom said it hoped to run the 4G auctions by the end of the year, having initially planned it to place at the start of the year. When we asked an Ofcom spokesman about the delay, he denied it was a delay at all, as the application process will begin before the end of the year.

Ofcom said the plans should see mobile broadband made available to 98 percent of the UK population. Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive, said: "The 4G auction has been designed to deliver the maximum possible benefit to consumers and citizens across the UK.

"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."

Two spectrums

Ofcom will be offering two spectrums of 4G to bidders - 800MHz and 2.6GHz - in a series of lots. The lower frequency 800MHz band is part of the "digital dividend", which is ideal for widespread mobile coverage, while the high 2.6GHz frequency can offer more capacity, resulting in higher speeds.

This combination of high and low frequencies creates the potential for 4G to be widely available across the UK, while offering the higher capacity to cope with increased demand in urban areas.

In the interests of competition between providers to help drive prices down, Ofcom has decided to reserve a minimum amount of spectrum in the auction for a fourth operator - after the three major networks: Vodafone, O2 and Everything Everywhere..

This could be Hutchison 3G, the company behind the 3 mobile network, Ofcom said.

One of the 800MHz lots of 4G spectrum will carry an obligation meaning that the winning bidder must use it to provide an indoor mobile broadband service to at least 98 percent of the UK population by the end of 2017.

Ofcom intends to hold the auction as soon as possible and is now publishing a draft of the legal instrument which outlines the auction rules. These rules are subject to a statutory consultation closing on 11 September this year.

The regulator expects the auction process to start before the end of 2012, with prospective bidders required formally to apply to take part. Those applications will then be assessed by Ofcom before the bidding phase starts, which it hopes to be in early 2013.

After that, mobile operators are expected to start rolling out 4G networks from the middle of 2013, and to start offering 4G services to consumers later that year.