Ofcom gets 4G ball rolling

Ofcom has set the ball rolling for widespread adoption of 4G in the UK, announcing that it will be conducting the largest ever auction of spectrum for mobile services by the end of the year.  

The auction will offer the equivalent of three quarters of the mobile spectrum in use today – some 80 percent more than released in the 3G auction which took place in 2000.

Ofcom hopes that its best laid plans will mean that mobile broadband will be rolled out to at least 98 percent of people in villages, towns and cities across the UK, which it says will  
“create substantial benefits for citizens and consumers”.

To ensure that consumers continue to benefit from a competitive market, Ofcom has also decided to reserve some of the available spectrum for a fourth national wholesaler other than the three largest mobile operators. This could be either Hutchison 3G or a new entrant altogether.

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 what Ofcom describes as the ‘digital dividend’, which it says is ideal for widespread mobile coverage.

The higher frequency 2.6 GHz band will be used to deliver the capacity needed for faster speeds.

Combined, these two bands total to 250 MHz of additional mobile spectrum, compared to 333 MHz in use today.

The spectrum bands will be auctioned to bidders as a series of lots. One of the 800 MHz lots of spectrum will carry an obligation to provide a mobile broadband service for indoor reception to at least 98 percent of the UK population by the end of 2017 at the latest.

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 the public later that year.