UK regulator sets out timetable for 4G roll-out

UK communications regulator Ofcom has today published the timetable and final regulations for the 4G mobile spectrum auction - set to be the largest ever sale of mobile airwaves in the UK.

People in cities, towns and villages across the UK will benefit from superfast 4G mobile services following the release of this new spectrum. The amount of airwaves currently available to smartphones and tablets under 3G networks will almost double.

E RADAR's Will Roebuck said:

"Mobile technology is allowing both businesses and consumers to access online markets anytime anywhere.  4G services will speed up this process and help stimulate the UK's digital economy by supporting innovation and growth.  Anyone with a business idea can get online and sell high value digital products wherever they are.  It's time that we had some more good news for the British economy and this is it"

The rules set out in detail the process involved in the auction – from applying to take part, through to bidding and finally issuing the licences to use the spectrum. Ofcom has also today confirmed reserve prices for the different lots of spectrum on offer and outlines the timetable for the auction process.

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said:

“Today marks an important shift from preparation to the delivery of the auction, which will see widespread 4G mobile services from a range of providers.

The entire industry is now focused on the auction itself, with a shared goal of delivering new and improved mobile services for consumers.”

Reserve prices

Ofcom has confirmed the reserve prices for the spectrum that is being auctioned. The combined total is £1.3 billion.

Application date set

Ofcom has also announced 11 December as the provisional date for the submission of applications by prospective bidders. Ofcom will confirm the date in two weeks time, once the regulations have come into force.

Chronology for auction

  • 11 December 2012: The application day

Prospective bidders submit their applications to Ofcom together with an initial deposit.

  • December 2012: Qualification stage

Applications are reviewed to determine who can go on to bid in the auction.

  • January 2013: The principal stage

Bidding begins. This could take a number of weeks. Bids will be placed online over secure internet connections, using software that has been developed specifically for the auction.

  • February/March 2013: The assignment stage

Bidders informed what they have won and its cost.

  • February/March 2013: The grant stage

Licence fees are paid and licences granted.

  • May/June 2013: New 4G services launched

New 4G services expected to go live from a range of providers.

What is 4G?

In telecommunications, 4G is the fourth generation of mobile phone mobile communications standards. It is a successor of the third generation (3G) standards. A 4G system provides mobile ultra-broadband Internet access, for example to laptops with USB wireless modems, to smartphones, and to other mobile devices. Conceivable applications include amended mobile web access, IP telephony, gaming services, high-definition mobile TV, video conferencing and 3D television.

Recently, Android and Windows-enabled cellular devices have fallen in the 4G category. One base advantage of 4G is that it can at any point of travelling time provide an internet data transfer rate higher than any existing cellular services (excluding broadband and Wi-Fi connections)

What to expect from 4G

4G services should make it much quicker to surf the web on mobiles – speeds will be nearer to what is currently experienced with home broadband.

Because of this, 4G is ideally suited for high-bandwidth data services such as streaming high-quality video, watching live TV and downloading large files.

For the typical user, download speeds of initial 4G networks could be around 5-7 times those for existing 3G networks. This means a music album taking 20 minutes to download on a 3G phone and just over three minutes on 4G. This is based on existing 3G speeds being 1 Mbit/s on average and 4G speed being 6 Mbit/s (on average between 5 and 7 times faster).

4G consumer information

Ofcom has also today launched a new 4G consumer page, which provides information on the upcoming auction and the consumer benefits that new services will deliver.