Ofcom sets out the rules for 4G airwaves sale

BRITAIN will have wider access to high-speed 4G mobile services from late spring next year, the communications regulator confirmed yesterday, as it published final terms for an auction of airwaves to be held in January.

The auction of 4G-approved spectrum, some of which was previously used for analogue TV signals, will raise at least £1.3bn for the public purse, Ofcom announced yesterday, as it set reserve prices for the lots of spectrum to be sold. Estimates put the true amount the auction will bring in at up to £4bn, although this still pales in comparison to the £22.5bn raised in 2000’s 3G bidding.

The likes of O2 and Vodafone are looking to launch 4G networks as soon as possible, after Orange and T-Mobile parent EE stole a march on rivals by gaining approval to have some of its current mobile spectrum reassigned earlier this year.

The 4G data networks, which will only work on certain handsets, offer speeds between five and seven times faster than current 3G networks, Ofcom says.

The country’s four operators – O2, Vodafone, EE and Three – will in December lodge applications to be approved as suitable candidates to operate the 4G spectrum before it is sold off in chunks in January. Ofcom has introduced measures to make sure all four providers grab a slice of the new airwaves.

Although EE already runs a 4G network on its existing spectrum, it will still be bidding in the auction so that it can bolster its current service.

The date that networks will be able to operate 4G services – some time in May or June – was recently brought forward by six months after government-brokered peace talks between the companies.

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

TIMELINE FOR UK ROLLOUT OF 4G SERVICES

21 August 2012
Ofcom gives EE permission to reassign its current spectrum for 4G use

30 October
EE switches on UK’s first 4G network, months ahead of rivals

12 November
Ofcom announces final proposals for auction of 4G spectrum

11 December
Prospective bidders apply to be candidates to buy spectrum and place deposits. These are likely to be the UK’s four mobile networks, although others could enter. Applicants are then reviewed by Ofcom to decide if they are fit and proper

January 2013
Auction begins, although Ofcom has warned this could take weeks to complete. The bids are placed over secure internet connections using specially-developed software

February/March
Bidders are informed what slices of the airwaves they have won and how much they will cost. Operators then pay licence fees for spectrum and can plan for rolling out their 4G networks

May/June
Mobile operators are expected to roll out 4G networks after testing – earlier than originally planned but months after EE launched its service