The communications regulator Ofcom has said that the bidding process for 4G bandwidth will start at the beginning of 2013.
The 4G auction will see companies bid for two spectrum bands: the 800MHz band, which can travel further and is hoped will boost the expansion of broadband in rural areas, and 2.6GHz, which is likely to be used in urban areas as it can carry more information at a faster speed.
The auction was initially scheduled to take place in the first quarter of 2012, but in October 2011 Ofcom said that it would be delayed until the fourth quarter of 2012.
The regulator told Computing that its latest proposal was in line with its plans published in January.
"Ofcom's statement on the 4G auction does not represent any delay; it is entirely consistent with our proposals published in January. Ofcom expects the auction process to start before the end of this year with prospective bidders required to apply formally to take part," it said in a statement.
In its consultation statement, the regulator said: "Ofcom expects the auction process to start before the end of this year, with prospective bidders required formally to apply to take part. Those 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."
Ofcom said that the auction would offer 80 per cent more mobile spectrum than that released in the 3G auction, which took place in 2000. It will see mobile broadband rolled out to at least 98 per cent of people in villages, towns and cities across the UK.
As expected, Ofcom has suggested that there should be a fourth credible national wholesaler of 4G mobile services to join O2, Vodafone and Everything Everywhere. It said it would reserve a minimum amount of spectrum in the auction for a fourth operator, which could be either Hutchison 3G, which trades in the UK as Three, or "a new entrant altogether".
The auction's initial delay caused Labour's shadow Minister for Media, Helen Goodman, to hit out at the government's handling of the 4G spectrum, claiming that if the government had backed Ofcom, it could have raised between £2bn and £4bn in capital, in addition to generating about £300m a year in licence fees.
The 4G auction has always been embroiled in controversy; In April, Everything Everywhere began a campaign that it said would "raise awareness about 4G LTE" in a bid to speed up the rollout of the technology in the UK.
But mobile operators O2, Vodafone and Three all spoke out against the campaign, suggesting that Everything Everywhere had an ulterior motive to launch a 4G service before its competitors.
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