However, while the process will begin this year, the actual bidding will not happen until 2013, pushing back the arrival of LTE services in the U.K. well into next year at the earliest.
Ofcom has launched a consultation period on the auction rules (published today in a legal document) that will end on Sept. 11. Participants will then be able to apply to participate and be assessed by Ofcom as to their suitability.
After that the bidding process can begin, but this will likely not happen until "early 2013," states the regulator, which expects operators to launch LTE services to consumers late next year and ultimately offer 4G mobile broadband services to at least 98 percent of the U.K.'s 63 million inhabitants.
To put that timetable into perspective, South Korea has already achieved a 17 percent penetration rate for its 4G services, Sweden's Telia Company launched LTE services in 2009 and 4G services have been available in Germany in rural and urban markets for more than a year. (See South Korea: 4G Nation, Deutsche Telekom Takes LTE to the City and TeliaSonera First to Go Live With LTE.)
The process, which will see chunks of spectrum auctioned in lots, will give the U.K.'s operators a hefty new chunk of capacity: Currently they use 333MHz between them. It should also deliver a hefty chunk of cash to the U.K. government, which managed to squeeze more than £22 billion (US$34.1 billion) from five operators in the 3G auction held in 2000.
Here are the main points of Ofcom's plan:
— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading