Regulator Ofcom has given operators four weeks to register for what it claims will be the UK’s biggest ever sale of mobile airwaves next year.
Prospective bidders must submit a £100,000 deposit to register for the auction of new spectrum, which can be used by smartphones and tablets to provide superfast 4G services in cities including Birmingham at speeds similar to home broadband.
Ofcom expects to raise a minimum £1.3 billion from the process, a far cry from the £22.5 billion that was gained by selling 3G frequencies during the dotcom boom in 2000.
The new spectrum auction could see 4G services being provided by a range of providers as early as next May, according to the regulator.
EE, the owner of T-Mobile and Orange, is currently the only mobile operator in the UK with enough spectrum to offer 4G capability. Its three rivals, Vodafone, Telefonica and Three, are expected to join the group as frontrunners for additional frequencies as demand for mobile broadband continues to skyrocket, although the auction is also open to new entrants.
Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said: “Today marks an important shift from preparation to the delivery of the auction, which will see widespread 4G mobile services from a range of providers.
“The entire industry is now focused on the auction itself, with a shared goal of delivering new and improved mobile services for consumers.”
Ofcom expects to commence bidding for the new frequencies in January. Using software specifically designed for the process, the bids will be placed online on secure servers.
EE’s 4G services were launched on October 30 in 11 major cities including London, Southampton, Bristol and Birmingham.