Mobile phone operators have until December 11 to put down a deposit and apply for a spot in the UK's upcoming 4G spectrum auction, says Ofcom this morning.
The telecoms regulator has published a timetable for the auctions, which it claims will be the largest ever sale of mobile airwaves in the UK. A reserve price of £1.3bn has been set on the total spectrum being auctioned.
Operators will need to apply to take part in the bidding process and put down an initial deposit by December 11 and will be informed if their attempt was successful in February or March next year. New 4G services will go on sale as early as May.
Ed Richards, Ofcom's 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.”
Currently EE is the only operator offering 4G service in the UK, stealing a march on rivals by reusing surplus 2G airwaves.
Ofcom approved the move and said consumers would "benefit significantly from gaining early access to 4G services", dismissing competition complaints by saying that there was "no material risk that those benefits would be outweighed by a distortion of competition".
But EE admitted a "teething problem" after launch with customers branded the service a “rush job”, with complaints about difficulties obtaining SIM cards, connecting to the network and dealing with “confusing” customer service systems.
= Timetable for 4G auction =
December 11 : Deadline for applications and initial deposits. Ofcom will review applications and decide who can go on to bid in the auction.
January : Bidding begins. Bids will be placed online over secure internet connections, using software that has been developed specifically for the auction.
February/March : Bidders informed what they have won and its cost. Licence fees are paid and licences granted.
May/June : New 4G services launched.