Ofcom has confirmed that bidding in the 4G spectrum auctions will take place at the start of 2013 with a set of the new spectrum holdings set aside to guarentee coverage from a fourth operator.
The rollout of 4G networks has been plagued by delays but Ofcom had promised that auctions would take by place the end of 2012, although this only meant with regards the submission of interest to bid by operators.
On Tuesday Ofcom re-confirmed that the bidding process would not begin until 2013 as the regulator will need time to assess the consultation responses to its latest proposals.
The slow process for the auctions is a blow for the UK, which is far behind rivals such as Germany and the US on the use of 4G, as operators squabble over numerous aspects of the process for handing out the new spectrum.
The new spectrum sits in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands and should allow speeds up to 150Mbit/s when accessing the internet on the move. This should help mobile operators offer far faster mobile broadband speeds and extend their capacity to meet the huge strain being placed on their networks by smartphones and tablets.
O2, Vodafone and Everything Everywhere will be the main bidders in the auction but Ofcom has confirmed a portion of spectrum will be set aside for a fourth operator - possibly Three or a new entrant such as Virgin Media - to ensure a competitive market.
Winners of 4G spectrum will also face coverage obligations of 98 per cent to ensure those living in the remotest regions of the UK are able to access the internet with solid connections, as part of the government's desire to provide coverage for all by 2015.
Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards touted the benefits 4G will bring to the UK, when it eventually arrives.
"The 4G auction has been designed to deliver the maximum possible benefit to consumers and citizens across the UK," he said.
"As a direct result of the measures Ofcom is introducing, consumers will be able to surf the web, stream videos and download email attachments on their mobile device from almost every home in the UK."
The consultation on the proposals will be open until 11 September with bidders then asked to submit their requests to enter the auctions by the end of 2012, before the actual bidding begins in early 2013.
Networks should be live by the end of 2013, Ofcom said, although given the numerous delays so far, it may well not be until 2014 before any major implementations are up and running.
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