Mobile operators O2, Vodafone and Three could be able to offer 4G services on their existing 3G spectrum holdings after Ofcom opened a consultation on the issue.
The regulator revealed the firms had asked to be able to use their existing holdings for 4G services, no doubt spurred by the same request granted to its rival EE, which has been offering higher-speed services since November 2012.
In the consultation, which will close on 29 March, Ofcom is seeking responses to the demands made by the firms, which also include requests from O2 and Vodafone to be able to increase their power base station transmit power by three decibels (3dB) for 3G use.
"We propose in this consultation to liberalise all mobile licences in the 900MHz, 1800MHz and 2100MHz bands to permit the deployment of 4G services," it said.
V3 contacted the three operators for comment on the opening of the consultation but had received no reply at time of publication.
Legal experts said it was likely the operators would get their wishes, with James Walsh, head of telecommunications at law firm Eversheds, saying given the precedent set by the EE decision Ofcom had little option but to begin this process.
"The proposal to permit existing mobile licences to be used for 4G should not come as a major surprise. This follows the move by EE to vary its existing 1800MHz spectrum that has traditionally been used for its 2G offering to support its new 4G network."
However, Walsh noted that it would be interesting to see how the consultation affected any bidding for the new 4G spectrum holdings, as it was effectively increasing the spectrum available in the market.
"What we do not know is how Ofcom's proposal will affect bids for the new tranches of spectrum that Ofcom is currently auctioning off to support 4G roll outs - the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum bands," he said.
"Clearly the new mobile spectrum bands will remain extremely valuable to the bidders, but the new proposal will no doubt be another variable that the bidders have to factor into their pricing."
Dan Worth is the news editor for V3 having first joined the site as a reporter in November 2009. He specialises in a raft of areas including fixed and mobile telecoms, data protection, social media and government IT. Before joining V3 Dan covered communications technology, data handling and resilience in the emergency services sector on the BAPCO Journal.