The next-generation 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) mobile services offering much faster connection speeds, powering better mobile interactive apps and services with HD video and the like, are unlikely to be made available until 2014, says Ofcom.
The regulator has laid-out a timeframe for the auction and implementation of services on the 800MHz and 2.6GHz radio spectrum. The 800MHz band is current used for terrestrial TV broadcasts, but the digital switchover means it can now be assigned for mobile broadband use. It's thought speeds of 'up to' 100Mbps will be achieved over LTE services.
Ofcom said that while parliament is expected to consider draft within the next week, consultations will not begin until early 2011, with the auctions scheduled to take-place in 2012. However, it's unlikely they'll be wrapped up before the end of 2013, meaning LTE networks won't begin operating until 2014.
"We want to set out and attempt to hit this ambitious timescale because of the significance of this spectrum to our economy and to our society," said Ofcom's CEO, Ed Richards.
"It is clear that we are talking about a very significant step forward – not only the most significant release since the 3G auction in 2001 but spectrum which is the raw material that will fuel an explosion in next generation mobile broadband."
Stephen Rayment, CTO at Wifi provider BelAir networks, said the new spectrum brought its own challenges: "The real elephant in the room is how operators ensure their networks can continue to cope with the increasing appetite for mobile data. Whilst the upgrade path from 2G to 3G consisted primarily of swapping base stations from their tower and rooftop mounting locations, this macro-cellular approach will barely touch the sides when it comes to data capacity."