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Ofcom sets a date for 4G spectrum auction results

Ofcom, the UK's telecommunications regulator, has officially set a date for the first 4G spectrum auctions: spring 2013.

The auction sees mobile operators bidding for the rights to repurpose sections of the radiofrequency spectrum freed up by the move to digital television for high-speed mobile data use, launching fourth-generation (4G) services based on the Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology. The result: mobile broadband connections significantly faster than those possible using traditional 3G services.

Currently, the only commercial 4G service in the UK is offered by EE, a conglomeration formed from Orange and T-Mobile, which performed an end-run around the auctions by reusing a section of its own spectrum allocation previously set aside for 2G use. The result: the company was able to hit headlines as the first to launch a commercially available 4G service - albeit one available only in selected parts of the country, and with eye-watering prices and data transfer restrictions.

When the winners of the auction are announced by Ofcom in spring 2013, that should change: each mobile network in the UK is ready to start deploying its own 4G service, but needs to wait for the go-ahead from the regulator. When the networks are provided with space in the spectrum through the auction, they can begin to launch with the first networks expected to be ready for use by summer 2013.

That will bring the one thing the UK 4G market is currently missing: competition. With rival networks looking to undercut EE's pricing, it seems likely that a race to the bottom will take place with each company launching new offers at lower monthly costs and with increasingly generous data transfer allowances.

In short: if you haven't made the leap to EE's 4G network yet, we'd recommend waiting until the summer before signing on the dotted line.

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