Ofcom today told mobile operators that applications for the 4G spectrum auction must be submitted by 11 December 2012.
The telecoms regulator announced the date as part of a statement finalising the rules for the process, including the reserve prices of all the frequencies, totaling £1.3bn.
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“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,” said Ed Richards, CEO of Ofcom.
“The entire industry is now focused on the auction itself, with a shared goal of delivering new and improved mobile services for consumers.”
The spectrum auction will see the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum – freed up after the digital television switchover – split into seven separate lots, with reserve prices ranging from £100,000 for 5MHz of the unpaired 2.6GHz spectrum through to £250m for 2x10MHz of the 800MHz spectrum, although this latter one includes a service obligation to extend 4G coverage across some areas.
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EE – formerly Everything Everywhere – is currently the only operator in the UK to offer 4G services after Ofcom agree to the operator repurposing its existing 1800MHz allocation for 4G services.
During the consultation process, the operator complained to Ofcom that its methodology for working out the reserve prices put the starting bids for the 800MHz spectrum too high, but the regulator dismissed the claims, saying its rules were unlikely to deter bids.
Once the applications have been submitted, Ofcom will use December to decide who can go forward to the auction. January will then see the bidding begin, although Ofcom has warned the process could take several weeks.
In February and March, mobile operators will be told who has won which allocations and the licence fees will be taken by the regulator. Ofcom then expects 4G services to launch in May or June.
Ofcom has submitted a statutory instrument to pass this through as legislation and, if all goes to plan, the rules should come into force on 23 November 2012.