4G spectrum cleared early by Arqiva and DigitalUK

The unexpected progress in clearing spectrum for the 4G auction later this year has brought the possible roll-out date forward by five months

The UK roll-out of 4G mobile services got a boost yesterday as Ofcom revealed the spectrum needed would be ready for use five months earlier than expected.

The 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequencies were freed up by the digital TV switchover, but needed to be cleared of all the services running over them before they could be repurposed and used again.

It was initially thought this process, carried out by telecoms firms Arqiva and DigitalUK, would take until October 2013 but in a statement late last night the telecoms regulator revealed this conclusion date had been brought forward to May 2013.

“This has only become possible in the past few months as a result of the significant progress that has been made to date with the digital switchover and the clearance programme itself, which has been running ahead of schedule,” said Ofcom.

“This means that more UK consumers will be able to benefit from a competitive market for super-fast mobile broadband sooner than previously possible.”

Mobile operators will still not be able to use the spectrum until the necessary auction has taken place to split it up fairly between them though.

Yesterday, the major providers met with Ofcom and Culture Secretary Maria Miller to push for a speeding up of the auction process and to discuss the fact EE – formerly Everything Everywhere – had been given permission to repurpose its existing 1800MHz spectrum for 4G services, meaning it would be first to market and, in their eyes, gain an unfair competitive advantage.

The progress with the spectrum clearance appears to have appeased the operators from launching any legal action against EE’s efforts, and against the government and Ofcom themselves, for the rules surrounding the auction.

However, an Ofcom spokesman said the progress in clearing spectrum “would have happened irrespective of the meeting taking place” and admitted the bidding process had been “largely unchanged” as a result of the meetings.

As previously confirmed by all parties involved, the auction will kick off towards the end of the year with official bidding taking place from January. The Ofcom spokesman said the process “was not going to take just a couple of days” and would likely last for at least a month before any conclusions were made.

It will then take the operators time to set up, test and roll-out their services, with the spokesman saying services will probably be available from summer 2013.

EE, however, will launch its 4G offerings before Christmas, with its director of network strategy, David Salam, telling Computer Weekly yesterday it was planning to go live in the "coming weeks” rather than months.

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