Ofcom reveals 4G mobile auction plans
Telecoms regulator Ofcom has unveiled plans for the auction of fourth generation (4G) bandwidth for mobile phone services.
The sales process will start later this year but bidding will not begin until early 2013, which Ofcom said was in line with its previous timetable.
The regulator says it expects consumers to start getting services in late 2013.
It wants to see "at least four credible national wholesalers of 4G mobile services" to promote competition.
The auction will sell chunks of radio spectrum to support future 4G mobile services, which will allow users to download data such as music and videos at much faster speeds.
The regulator has previously said that the spectrum to support 4G services will not be available to use until 2013.
It says its plans should see mobile broadband rolled out to at least 98% of people in rural areas across the UK.
The auction will offer the equivalent of three-quarters of the mobile spectrum currently in use - some 80% more than released in the 3G auction which took place in 2000, Ofcom said.
It now wants to see at least four wholesalers of 4G mobile services so that consumers will benefit from better services at lower prices.
"In the interests of competition, Ofcom has decided to reserve a minimum amount of spectrum in the auction for a fourth operator. This could be either Hutchinson 3G or a new entrant altogether," Ofcom said.
Everything Everywhere - the merged operator of Orange and T-Mobile - Vodafone and Telefonica, which owns O2, are the other three operators.
A spokesperson for Everything Everywhere said: "While there are still some elements of today's proposal which we don't think are in the interests of competition or consumers, we are pleased that Ofcom is moving in the right direction and we recognise that we need to get this process moving now before the UK falls further behind the rest of the world."