The schedule for the long-awaited, and much-delayed 4G spectrum auction has been finalised by communications regulator Ofcom, and could see further 4G services becoming available by next May.
Mobile operators O2 and Vodafone are expected to bid in the auction, and Ofcom said that any firms wishing to bid for spectrum must submit their application by 11 December 2012.
As Computing revealed in July, BT could also bid at the auction, rivalling mobile operator Three. At the time the telecoms giant said that the auction proposals were "sufficiently flexible to cover our potential interests". Virgin Media, meanwhile, told Computing that the 4G auction was not in its interests but did not completely rule out making a bid for the reserved spectrum.
Ofcom stated that the reserve prices for the spectrum that is being auctioned come in at a combined £1.3bn.
The communications regulator said that the 11 December date was "provisional", with the date being confirmed in two weeks after the auction regulations have come into force.
After applications and initial deposits are handed to Ofcom, applications will be reviewed to determine which operators can go on to bid in the auction.
Thereafter a principal online bidding stage begins, which could take a number of weeks in January. Ofcom said that this will happen by using software that has been developed specifically for the auction.
Bidders will then be informed of what they have won and its cost, and licence fees are to be paid and granted. New 4G services are then to be launched by May or June.
The services will follow EE's launch of the UK's first 4G network in October. The mobile operator formed by T-Mobile and Orange was allowed to re-purpose its 2G spectrum to deliver LTE services, after Ofcom declared that "there was no material risk that [the benefits consumers would gain from 4G] will be outweighed by a distortion of competition".
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