4G mobile services finally launched in the United Kingdom just a few months ago on October 30 by EE, the joint venture company which also encompasses T-Mobile and Orange in the UK. EE was granted special permission by the telecommunications regulator, Ofcom, to convert and reallocate existing 3G spectrum in the 1800MHz band, enabling the company to launch 4G services ahead of any other network operator in the UK.
But EE's 4G monopoly will soon end, and the first step in that process will be the auction in which companies will compete to purchase mobile spectrum allocations through which they will run their own 4G services. The auction will begin in January 2013, and today, Ofcom has announced that seven companies have qualified to take part in the process:
- Everything Everywhere Limited (UK) - including EE 4G, T-Mobile UK and Orange UK
- Vodafone Limited
- Hutchison 3G UK Limited - which operates the Three network
- Telefónica UK Limited - including O2 and giffgaff
- Niche Spectrum Ventures Limited (a subsidiary of BT Group plc)
- MLL Telecom
- HKT (UK) Company Limited (a subsidiary of PCCW Limited)
The latter two companies in the list are telecommunications infrastructure providers, with both already offering wireless and fixed-line solutions to large enterprises across the UK.
The auction will offer spectrum in two bands: 800MHz, which has been freed up by the termination of analogue terrestrial TV signals, which Ofcom says is well-suited to ensuring widespread 4G coverage; and the higher-frequency 2.6GHz (or 2600MHz, if you prefer) band, which is "ideal for delivering the capacity needed to deliver faster speeds".
Ofcom says that it expects that successful bidders will be able to launch their first 4G services in these bands by late Spring 2013. The advent of competition in 4G will inevitably help to bring down the costs of these services to consumers - so you may want to hold off a few months before jumping on the 4G bandwagon.
Many UK consumers have responded negatively to the pricing and ungenerous data allowances of EE's 4G tariffs; price plans start at £36 per month, including unlimited texts and voice calls, but offers just 500MB of data, rising to £56 per month with 8GB of data. By comparison, a £41 price plan on T-Mobile 3G - also owned by EE - includes unlimited voice, texts and data. EE customers are also charged more for handsets, despite both EE and T-Mobile offering identical 4G-enabled devices.