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Ofcom announces 4G spectrum auction

23 March 2011

Ofcom has announced plans for the largest ever single auction of additional spectrum for mobile services in the UK. It is equivalent to three quarters of the mobile spectrum in use today and 80% more than the 3G auction which took place in 2000. This spectrum is essential to meet the UK’s rapid increase in mobile traffic, fuelled by the growth of smartphones and mobile broadband data services.

The two significant spectrum bands in question are 800MHz (resulting from the analogue to digital TV switchover next year) and 2.6GHz. Ofcom expects mobile operators to start rolling-out 4G networks from the start of 2013, and to start offering 4G services to consumers possibly later that year. The regulator expects 4G services to be widely available across the UK a few years thereafter.

Ofcom chief executive, Ed Richards, said: ‘The auction is not only critical to the future of the UK mobile telecommunications market but it is also of significant importance to the wider economy. It will support a wide range of data services that are fast becoming essential features of the modern world.

‘Our role as the independent regulator is to award this spectrum in a way that secures the best use of the spectrum for the benefit of citizens and consumers in the UK. That is why we are proposing to design the auction in a way that not only encourages investment but also promotes competition and delivers wide coverage of services.’

Welcoming the auction, John Walker, national chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, said: “Research by the FSB shows that nearly a quarter of respondents said they typically accessed the Internet through their smart phone, with a further 14 per cent saying they accessed it via a mobile broadband dongle. However, 48 per cent of respondents said they would use mobile broadband if it was available in their area
“The government has said it is relying on the private sector to drive the economy onto a firm footing, but it needs to act to ensure the UK has a competitive mobile broadband market that drives rollout and lowers prices. What small businesses can't afford is a spectrum auction that concentrates on a couple of networks.”

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