4G mobile auctions "within a year" - maybe

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Announcement on radio spectrum auctions is expected this month, but complications litter the road ahead

An auction for the radio spectrum that should enable 4G mobile broadband could take place within a year, according to Government officials.

The spectrum up for auction is in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands, which are both well suited to next generation services such as 3G Long Term Evolution (LTE) that promise mobile broadband speeds approaching 100Mbits/sec.

Last week in a parliamentary response, Under Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Ed Vaizey said "getting the issue sorted is an absolute priority for us, and we hope to make an announcement before the summer recess".

Parliament breaks for its summer holidays on 29 July.

According to BIS, if politicians press the “go” button before the summer recess, regulator Ofcom and industry figures can start working on the complicated process of ensuring that the auction leaves enough room for competition in the market, and that all operators are treated fairly.

“There'll be a few regulatory issues to work out at Ofcom before the auction could take place, and we'd expect that to take about nine months to a year,” a BIS spokesperson told PC Pro. “So the auction could start in about a year.”

The regulatory problems that need to be sorted out before any auction begin include negotiations with operators over whether they could use their old 2G spectrum in the 900MHz and 1,800MHz bands to deliver 3G services under a system called refarming. 3G services are currently only allowed to operate in the 2.1GHz range.

However, the time frame promised by Westminster could be over optimistic, experts say.

According to a sources at Ofcom, the regulator had wanted to get the auction under way in the first half of 2011, but says delays caused by the process being "parked" following the election mean late 2011 is a more realistic target.

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