Ofcom has published the final timetable for the UK 4G spectrum auction, with commercial services not expected until next June - even though EE already offers its own version of the mobile broadband.
Ofcom said 4G would "almost double the amount of airwaves currently available to smartphones and tablets that use 3G networks".
Ofcom has also confirmed reserve prices for the different lots of spectrum on offer, which total £1.3bn - much less than the total amount eventually paid by the mobile operators in the 3G auctions.
Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive, said, “Today marks an important shift from preparation to the delivery of the auction, which will see widespread 4G mobile services from a range of providers.
“The entire industry is now focused on the auction itself, with a shared goal of delivering new and improved mobile services for consumers.”
11 December has been set as the provisional date for the submission of applications by prospective bidders. Ofcom will confirm the date in two weeks time, once the regulations have come into force.
The application day will see bidders pay a deposit to Ofcom. In January the actual bidding will begin and could take a number of weeks. Bids will be placed online over secure internet connections, using software that has been developed specifically for the auction.
In February and March bidders will be informed about what they have won and its cost. Licence fees will then be paid and licences granted.
May or June will then see new 4G services launched, although it's not clear at this stage as to what extent 4G coverage will be offered to consumers around the UK - many 4G customers may still have to initially rely on 3G connectivity in many areas.
"4G services should make it much quicker to surf the web on mobiles – speeds will be nearer to what is currently experienced with home broadband.
"Because of this, 4G is ideally suited for high-bandwidth data services such as streaming high-quality video, watching live TV and downloading large files," promised Ofcom.
However, many existing 3G subscribers can see their connection speeds crash in some areas, because of coverage issues or because networks are crammed with other users. 3G users can then see their devices connected to GPRS or EDGE networks instead, meaning that websites are difficult to access and navigate and services like Twitter and Facebook barely work.
Ofcom says that for the "typical user", download speeds of "initial 4G networks" could be around 5-7 times those for existing 3G networks.
"This means a music album taking 20 minutes to download on a 3G phone and just over three minutes on 4G. This is based on existing 3G speeds being 1mbps on average and 4G speed being 6mbps (on average between 5 and 7 times faster)," Ofcom said.
EE, the company that owns the T-Mobile and Orange brands in the UK, is already heavily marketing its initial 4G service in the UK, after it was given permission by Ofcom to use spectrum it won in the 3G auction to enable faster access speeds. EE is still expected to bid in the separate 4G auction.
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