Telecoms regulator Ofcom has said that the auction of spectrum for 4G services will get under way by the end of the year, laying the path for the next-generation mobile services to be rolled out in 2013.
The plans should see 4G services, which offer high-speed data speeds for mobile internet, reach at least 98 per cent of the population, the regulator said.
Ofcom, which has had to strike a balance between promoting competition in the market, extending coverage to as many people as possible and raising money for the government, said some of the available spectrum had been reserved for a fourth national wholesaler other than the three largest operators.
The regulator said this could be taken up by 3, owned by Hutchison, the smallest player behind Everything Everywhere, owned by France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and Telefonica's O2.
Ofcom said it expected the auction process to start before the end of this year before bidding starts, likely to be in early 2013.
Mobile operators are expected to start rolling out 4G networks using the auctioned spectrum from the middle of 2013, and to start offering 4G services to consumers later that year, it said.