Ofcom delays 4G mobile auctions

image captionThe 4G mobile tech will help to bring faster broadband to rural areas

Telecoms watchdog Ofcom is to delay auctions that would sell chunks of radio spectrum to support future fourth-generation mobile services.

The process was initially scheduled to take place early in 2012 following a consultation about the proposals during 2011.

However, Ofcom said the strength of the responses to that consultation had persuaded it to delay the auction.

It said now hoped to run the sale towards the end of 2012.

"We received a number of substantial and strongly argued responses to this consultation," said Ofcom in a statement.

These arguments convinced it of the need to run a further round of consultation because any decision it makes will "likely to shape the future of the mobile sector in the UK for the next decade or more" it added.

It said that the delay may not have a material impact on the date when 4G services become available as the spectrum to support them will not be free until 2013.

Vodafone released a statement welcoming the new timetable.

"We agree with Ofcom that there is time for reflection given that the spectrum will not be available until 2013. It is very important to get the rules right to ensure that the roll-out of 4G services benefits consumers and the wider economy."

The extra spectrum will be used to support fourth generation (4G) mobile technologies which will mean, among other things, higher download speeds and better web browsing.

The bands being sold - the 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequencies - include parts of the spectrum historically used by analogue TV, which is being switched off as digital TV is rolled out.

The auction will sell off a huge chunk of available spectrum, equivalent to three quarters of the mobile spectrum in use today.

Controversy has dogged the scheduled sale and Ofcom has said it would cap how much firms can buy to ensure the mobile market stays competitive.

Mobile operator Three has publicly voiced fears that it will run out of room on its third-generation network unless the auction happens quickly.

The news about the delay comes as two mobile operators kick off a trial of 4G technology.

The project run by Everything Everywhere and BT is taking place in Cornwall and aims to bring faster broadband to a rural area that currently has no or low quality net links.

The trial will deliver broadband over a 4G technology known as LTE to 200 customers who live around St. Newlyn East and the surrounding area of South Newquay.

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