Ofcom: First stage in mobile 4G auction underway

Allan Swann
December 11, 2012

Ofcom has started taking applications to take part in the 4G mobile radio spectrum auction, which is due to occur early in the new year.

Applicants have until 4pm today to submit their applications, along with the £100,000 deposit.

Vodafone, O2 and Three have all put their applications in, which will give them the right to bid for the radio spectrum that 4G mobile data services run on – and help them begin their catch up with Everything Everywhere, which launched 4G on its existing radio spectrum in late October. EE will also be competing in the 4G auction to expand its reach.

“We have fired the starting gun on the 4G auction process. In the past year alone, mobile internet usage has doubled. The 4G auction will release crucial capacity to support future growth, helping to boost UK productivity, innovation and drive significant improvements to mobile broadband availability across the UK,” said Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive.

Ofcom will announce the names of all the successful applicants before the end of the year or early in the New Year,which will then allow bidding to start in January. This process will take a couple of weeks before the final result of the auction is known, and means that EE’s rival operators won’t realistically be able to launch until mid year.

The Government expects to benefit to the tune of £2-3bn from the auction, which Ofcom (the telecommunications regulator) will operate on its behalf independently. This is a far cry from the £22.5bn spent by the mobile operators in the year 2000 3G spectrum auctions, which lead to the 2001 telco crash.

This time round Ofcom will ensure all applications are qualified to take part in the auction. This will involve carrying out a range of checks, from ensuring the information submitted is correct through to ensuring that there is no overlap between applications, which could distort the auction.

Bidders will be competing for spectrum in two separate bands – 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz. The 800 MHz band was made available when analogue terrestrial TV was switched off last year, and reaches further geographically. The higher frequency 2.6 GHz band penetrates better, and so is ideal for delivering faster speeds to denser population groups and through thick walls, such as in the UK’s major towns and cities.

These two bands add up to 250 MHz of additional mobile spectrum, compared to 333 MHz in use today. Both bands are being packaged into smaller lots so that they can be acquired by multiple operators.

Everything Everywhere refarmed its existing 2G and 3G spectrum to open up space in its 1800MHz band, which offers a fair mix of the above two cases.

For the average user, 4G download speeds are around 5-7 times those for existing 3G networks (3G averages around 1mbps, while 4G starts at around 6mbps). This means users can play games, watch movies, use social media and surf the web far quicker than before.

What Mobile has an in-depth feature on 4G in its January issue, on shelves Thursday. 

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