Communications regulator Ofcom has launched its first spectrum auction in a move that will open the way for mobile operators to run low-power GSM services with local coverage.
The spectrum band on offer is close to the frequencies used by major mobile phone operators and would allow them to develop networks that would be accessible using existing mobile handsets.
The low-power licences would allow the creation of local GSM networks covering small areas, such as private networks for university campuses or office developments.
An Ofcom spokesman said, “Every single one of the 60 million-odd mobile phones in operation in the UK today can tune into these frequencies that are up for auction., That is obviously of significant interest to lots of people.”
But he stressed, “We prefer a technology neutral approach to spectrum allocation. We have no view about what the spectrum is used for. We want to let the market decide.”
The move is expected to interest the major mobile operators, while likely niche bids include communications start-up Coffee Telecom, which has expressed an interest in setting up hotspots in coffee bars and shopping centres around the country.
The auction will comprise a single round of sealed bids for the award of between seven and 12 low-power licences, with Tuesday 21 March set as the provisional date for applications.