Telecoms regulator Ofcom will auction off two spectrum bands for 4G mobile services early next year in a move that will ease provision of mobile internet services to both business and consumer users.
Ofcom said that making additional spectrum available was essential to meet the UK's rapid increase in mobile data traffic, which has caused many network operators to impose punitive limits on their 3G services in the face of increased smartphone usage.
Ofcom will sell off the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrums, which both lie within a so-called sweet spot or prime spectrum, meaning they can carry a wide variety of applications and will provide mobile internet speeds comparable to a home broadband connection. These two bands are equivalent to three quarters of the mobile spectrum currently in use.
The lower frequency, 800MHz band is currently used for analogue TV services but is well suited to providing widespread mobile coverage and is currently becoming available again as the UK completes its switch to digital TV. The 2.6GHz band is "ideal for delivering the capacity needed to deliver higher speeds", said Ofcom.
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."
The regulator expects mobile network operators to begin rolling out 4G services in 2013, with widespread UK coverage predicted by the mid-point of the decade.