Ofcom today announced further details of the 4G network auction, which now looks set to bring the new faster mobile network to the UK by the end of 2013.
There had been rumours that 4G may roll out as early as the end of 2012 – challenged by rival networks – but Ofcom has confirmed the auction process will go on well in to 2013.
The networks are likely to be chosen around the middle of 2013, after which the 4G network will begin to become available to UK users, bringing faster mobile internet connections for smartphones and tablets.
Ofcom claims that ultimately some 98% of people in villages, towns and cities across the UK will have access to the faster 4G network.
In an effort to ensure a competitive market, Ofcom has reserved some of the available spectrum for a fourth national wholesaler other than the three largest mobile operators (Vodafone, O2 owner Telefonica and Everything Everywhere, which comprises Orange and T-Mobile).
Ofcom claims this spread of providers, together with the auction of low and high frequency spectrum, should mean a better overall 4G service and lower prices in both urban and rural areas.
The 4G auction will offer at least two spectrum bands – 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz. The lower frequency 800 MHz band is part of the ‘digital dividend’, which is ideal for widespread mobile coverage.
The higher frequency 2.6 GHz band is ideal for delivering the capacity needed to deliver faster speeds, required for streaming HD content.
This combination of low and high frequency spectrum creates the potential for 4G mobile broadband services to be widely available across the UK, while offering capacity to cope with significant demand in urban centres.
Alongside today’s statement, Ofcom has published a draft of the auction rules. This is subject to a statutory consultation closing on 11 September 2012, after which the mobile networks are required to formally apply to take part in the auction for a share of the 4G network.
These applications will then be assessed by Ofcom before the bidding phase 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.
While some 4G products are on the market in parts of Europe and the US, products such as the new iPad, which first promised 4G speeds, won't be compatible with the UK network.