Ofcom has announced "an ambitious timetable" for the auction and provision of the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrums that could be used by operators to improve mobile broadband coverage.
However, while the auctions will eventually see the UK benefitting from next-generation mobile networks, including LTE, it could be as late as 2014 before the spectrum hits the market.
Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards gave a breakdown of the timeline for the auctions, explaining that the government is expected to give the green light in the next few days for the auctions to begin.
"We expect parliament to consider the draft legislation laid before it within the next week or so, directing release of this spectrum and paving the way for the creation of new LTE networks in the UK," he said.
The timetable starts with a consultation document due in February 2011 that will close in May, followed by draft auction regulations in the autumn of 2011.
Applications will then be invited for the beginning of 2012, with bidding commencing soon after, which is likely to result in licences being issued in the second quarter of 2012.
However, the spectrum itself is not likely to be available until the beginning of 2013, and will not be passed on to the winning operators until the end of 2013. Networks will be "up and running shortly thereafter", Richards explained, not specifying a time.
The timeline will leave mobile operators having to cope with the growing use of mobile data for several years, including during the Olympics which is expected to drive a huge spike in demand.
O2 said the company is pleased that Ofcom had announced the timetable. "We welcome the clarity provided, as it allows us to plan our investments and preparations for the auction process itself," said a spokesman.
Vodafone had no comment to make on the matter, and Orange, T-Mobile and Three had not replied at the time of publication.
The government announced its intention to auction the new spectrum in October, which was welcomed by analysts as good news for mobile operators as both bands are suitable for mobile broadband.
"The 2.6GHz spectrum is well suited for the next generation of wireless connectivity, essentially LTE, while 800MHz can provide good in-building coverage and will require fewer base stations to broadcast the signal," Ian Fogg, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, told V3.co.uk at the time.
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