UK communications regulator Ofcom today announced the final plans for their 4G LTE auction (pdf). Firms interested in bidding for 4G mobile spectrum must submit their application by 11 December. Licenses are expected to be granted in February and March. Services should go live in May and June.
The auction now has confirmed reserve prices for the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands, totaling a cool £1.3 billion ($2.07 billion).
The lower frequency 800 MHz band is part of the ‘digital dividend’, freed up when analogue terrestrial TV was switched off.
The higher frequency 2.6 GHz band has more capacity but less range. The 190 MHz of spectrum is divided into a paired (frequency division) section of 140 MHz and an unpaired section of 70 MHz.
The new 4G services are expected to go live sometime in May or June, offering high-speed data connections to nearly all UK mobile consumers. Currently only EE offers LTE service on their 1800 MHz band.
Ofcom allowed EE (then Everything Everywhere) to utilise its old 3G spectrum and roll out 4G services ahead of the auction. The company switched on its service in 11 cities at the end of last month, offering 4G plans that have come under fire for their cost. EE will enjoy at least 8 months of 4G exclusivity, before its rivals finally get the chance to offer their own services, and hopefully drive down prices down for consumers.
Ofcom’s auction of 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz spectrum is expected to take place in December.
United Kingdom has a total of 80 million subscribers, with a 130.55% penetration rate. Mobile operators in the UK include:
- Everything Everywhere: 27.2 million subs, owned by France Télécom aka Orange (50%) and Deutsche Telekom (50%).
- O2: 22.3 million subs, owned by Telefónica, a Spanish broadband and telecommunications provider
- Vodafone: 19.2 million subs, owned by Vodafone, headquartered in London.
- 3: 8.2 million subs, owned by Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa
Vodafone and Telefonica’s O2 are desperate to offer LTE after market leader EE, owned by France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom, rolled out LTE service by refarming their 1800 MHz spectrum. Bidders are obligated to reach 98% of the UK.
There is speculation that incumbent wireline telco BT, pay-TV giants BSkyB and Virgin Media, may also bid for frequencies, though Virgin has said it will not bid, despite carrying out test of LTE small cells in London.
Their extensive 1,500 small cell deployment in the London Olympic Village uses Alcatel-Lucent metrocells and open access indoor femtocells to achieve an astonishing throughput of 1 Gbit/s per square kilometre. O2 claims to have built, “the biggest small network in the world“, using both small cells and 14,000 Wi-Fi access points.
The UK’s smallest operator, 3, benefited from a divestment was part of the regulatory conditions imposed on the merger between Orange UK and T-Mobile UK that created Everything Everywhere in 2010. Three bought a portion of EE’s 1,800MHz spectrum and will launch LTE in that band next year.
Related Dailywireless articles include; UK Gets LTE, Ofcom: LTE This Year for Everything, Everywhere, Joint LTE Network in UK Planned by Vodafone and Telefónica, LTE iPhone: Game Changer?, Hong Kong: Dual-band LTE, Software Defined, Japan & Korea: More LTE than USA, UK Spectrum Auction: Delayed Again?, UK Spectrum Auction: Legal Threat from 02UK?, UK Delays 4G Auction, Ofcom: White Spaces by 2013, UK Gets Free Public WiFi, Europe’s Digital Divide Auction,