It is all well and good having advanced Android phones with support for 4G LTE technology, but those in the UK (which has a population in excess of 60 million people and in Europe has a standard of living second only to Luxembourg) have been limited to just one 4G operator.

EE officially launched its 4G service on October 30th in ten cities. What followed can only be described as a just outcry from the other mobile network operators who pointed out that a full 4G auction had yet to be held in the UK. EE, which owns Orange and T-Mobile, was given a head start over  O2 and Vodafone when its existing 1800 MHz license was modified to allow it to run 4G. Ofcom, the UK telecommunications regulator, decided that modifying EE’s license would give “material benefits to consumers and citizens.”

A few weeks before EE’s official launch, Ofcom came to an agreement with O2 and Vodafone where the pair agreed not to take legal action and received assurances that the auction process, which was needed for them to launch their own 4G services, would be sped up. Now, at last, Ofcom has finalized the details of the 4G mobile spectrum auction in the UK.

According to the new rules, other companies wishing to run a 4G network need to have their submissions in by 11 December 2012. Then the applications will be reviewed to determine who can go on to bid in the auction. In January the bidding will begin. In March the bidders will be informed what they have won and what it cost them. Finally after the companies have paid-up, they can launch new 4G services from June.

The new 4G services will cover 98% of the British population (with indoor coverage) and 99% with outdoor coverage. Speeds, it is hoped, will be nearer to what users currently experience with home broadband.

Talking MHz for a moment, the UK 4G auction will be for two bands – 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz. Interestingly, the 800 MHz band was freed up when analogue TV was switched off. In total the two new bands add up to 250 MHz of additional mobile spectrum. A significant jump when compared to the 333 MHz in use today.

So, EE has at least another seven months of 4G exclusivity in the UK and when it is all over the government will have made at least £1.3 billion from the sale of airwaves! Not a bad business model!

What do you think? Are you looking forward to Vodafone’s or O2’s 4G service? Have you tried EE? Any good?

Gary Sims
Gary has been a tech writer for over a decade. Prior to that, he had over 10 years of experience as a software engineer.