UK may get 4G network in 2012 via Everything Everywhere
The UK's first mainstream 4G mobile service may launch later this year, says Ofcom.
The regulator says it has received an application by Everything Everywhere to use its existing spectrum to offer the higher-speed service.
It says it does not believe the move by the owner of the Orange and T-Mobile networks would distort competition.
It has given other parties four weeks to submit their views about the proposed change.
Ofcom had previously warned that next-generation 4G services would not be rolled-out until 2013/14 following a planned auction of 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequencies. These include parts of the spectrum historically used by analogue TV, which is being switched off as part of the switch to digital services.
Everything Everywhere plans to jump ahead by varying its 1800MHz spectrum licenses to allow the use of LTE (long term evolution) and Wimax technologies.
"It's very important that the UK does not get left behind in the building of a new infrastructure for the digital economy," said a spokeswoman for the firm.
"We welcome today's notice of 1800MHz licence variation from Ofcom, as it suggests Ofcom's willingness to encourage the early deployment of 4G LTE."
James Barford, mobile telecoms analyst at Enders Analysis, said the move would help the network operator make a splash.
"Compatible 4G handsets are only just coming onto the market, so many of the firm's user base will be unlikely to take advantage of the faster mobile broadband speeds straightaway," he told the BBC.
"However, it is great marketing to be able to launch early - it certainly sounds good."'Surprise'
Vodafone signalled that it might challenge the move.
"It comes as a surprise that the regulator is now considering giving the largest player in the market permission to use its existing spectrum for 4G services before the rules for the auction have even been concluded or it has divested spectrum as required by the European Commission," a spokeswoman said.
"We seriously doubt that consumers' best interests will be served by giving one company a significant head start before any of its competitors have a clear path to 4G."
The group UK Broadband also plans to offer a 4G network restricted to the South Bank and Borough areas of Southwark, London, on a wholesale basis from May this year.
O2 has also been carrying out a limited 4G data trial in London, while BT and Everything Everywhere have fitted 4G wireless routers to selected homes in Cornwall to allow volunteers to enjoy faster download speeds.