Government officials have reached a deal with mobile carriers to speed up the deployment of 4G wireless broadband networks in the UK.
Ofcom on Tuesday revealed that it had agreed a plan with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and several carriers which will see the networks go live throughout the country in the first half of 2013.
"The actions we have taken with industry and government avoids the risk of significant delay and is tremendous news for consumers who might otherwise have waited a considerable period for the next generation of mobile broadband services," said Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards.
"Ofcom's objective has always been to release the spectrum as early as possible and we remain focused on starting the auction by the end of the year.
Word of the talks broke earlier in the day when DCMS officials confirmed to V3 that it had called Vodafone, O2, Three and EE in for a meeting aimed at settling a dispute between the carriers and Ofcom. Both Orange and Vodafone had been livid over Ofcom's decision to let EE repurpose some of its spectrum for 4G services.
Under the new deal, Ofcom will move forward its planned auction of the vacated 800MHz spectrum space.
Following the auction, firms will be able to configure their systems and begin operating in the newly-acquired spectrum spaces by the spring of 2013, months earlier than previous expected.
"Delivering 4G quickly is a key part of our economic growth strategy. I am grateful to the mobile operators for their co-operation in bringing forward vital 4G services," said Maria Miller, secretary of state for culture, media and sport.
"The open and collaborative approach taken between the Government and the mobile companies will have hugely beneficial results for UK business and investment."
Matthew Howett, a telecoms analyst at Ovum's said the shift in strategy meant the UK now had "one of the most ambitious rollout strategies" in the world.
"In many ways, Ofcom played an ace by allowing EE to launch 4G ahead of everyone else as it meant that for others to follow, they needed the joint award of 800MHz and 2.6GHz to happen as soon as possible - something which now seems finally likely to take place.
"Clearing the spectrum early is not without its challenges and all sides should be praised for the efforts made. From the outset it has always been an ambitious timetable, however now with political will and the commercial motivation from the industry, it finally looks set to happen."
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