The UK government today announced a range of incentives to encourage new entrants to bid for third generation mobile licenses.
But while confirming that is considering extending the number of licenses available, the Department of Trade and Industry said the auction would be several months later than originally planned.
In an attempt to encourage new competition in the UK telecoms market, DTI telecomms minister Michael Wills said new entrants' customers would be entitled to roam onto existing operators' networks until their own networks are established.
Wills also said the DTI was considering offering five licenses, rather than four, reserving a larger license for a new entrant. But the auction could be delayed until March 2000, much later than the original plan of summer 1999.
Third generation mobile networks will enable higher quality voice and much faster data transfer rates than current GSM systems. Standards for third generation systems are currently being debated.
Existing mobile operators and potential new entrants said they welcomed today's news. Orange said the news goes some way to clarifying the government's approach to third generation license allocation.
"Whilst today's announcement inevitably raises a range of issues, Orange's intention, subject to eventual licence terms, is to be a major [third generation] operator," Orange said in a statement.
Energis has made plain its potential interest in participating as a consortium bidder for a third generation license, said Mike Grabiner, chief executive of Energis. "Today's proposals by the government provide a clearer framework for evaluating our options," he said.
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