While wireless users in the United States and Canada have multiple options when it comes to 4G, the UK isn't quite so lucky. Though the country has seen several 4G trials, no network has officially launched a 4G LTE network as of yet. This is because Ofcom is planning to auction off new 4G spectrum suitable for LTE with regulations to ensure no one network gets left behind.
Ofcom last year announced plans for a 2012 auction. However, thanks to delays, the auction has yet to take place. Today, the telecoms watchdog announced that the auction would be under way by the end of 2012, paving the way for a 4G roll-out in 2013. The auction will offer the equivalent of three quarters of the mobile spectrum in use today and will be the largest ever auction of spectrum for mobile services in the UK. It will offer 80 percent more than the 3G auction, which took place in 2000.
The auction will cover two separate spectrum bands – 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz. According to Ofcom, the lower frequency band is part of the digital dividend, which is being freed-up as the UK switches from analogue to digital TV, and is ideal for widespread coverage. The higher-frequency 2.6GHz band is better suited to delivering higher speeds. Combined, these two bands add up to 250MHz of additional mobile spectrum.
As was said before, networks bidding on the spectrum will also be bound by certain obligations. For example, Ofcom said today that 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% of the UK population by the end of 2017 at the latest. The watchdog is hoping that by requiring one operator to do so will drive other operators to up the ante in terms of their own coverage.
Lastly, the telecoms body said that it feels UK consumers would benefit from better services at lower prices if there are at least four credible national wholesalers of 4G mobile services. As a result, Ofcom has decided to reserve a minimum amount of spectrum in the auction for a fourth operator. "This could be either Hutchison 3G [parent company of 3UK] or a new entrant altogether," Ofcom said today.
Ofcom said that it plans to start the auction process before the year's end. In line with that schedule, bidding is expected to start in early 2013.