UK media regulator Ofcom has announced that the bidding process for 4G bandwidth is finally set to start at the end of 2012. This means that 4G networks could start to roll out on our shores in 2013.
This auction process has been much delayed owing to squabbling between the three major operators and Ofcom over how the UK's 4G capacity should be divided up and sold off. You can perhaps understand them being a little tetchy following the 3G debacle at the turn of the millenium, which saw the big companies massively overpaying for their portion of the 3G pie.
The result has been an artificial delaying of progress to a 4G standard, leaving the UK badly trailing the likes of the US and parts of Europe in terms of mobile network speeds.
That's all set to change once the UK's increased mobile spectrum (which will include a portion of our now defunct analogue TV bandwidth) is sold off. Ofcom today announced that it "expects the auction process to start before the end of this year," although the actual bidding phase is "likely to be in early 2013."
So when will we see the winners - Vodafone, O2 and Everything Everywhere (plus one minor player, probably 3) - rolling out their 4G efforts? Ofcom reckons they'll start initiating their 4G networks "from the middle of 2013," with a view to "offering 4G services to consumers later that year."
This certainly tallies with the news from earlier this year in which Everything Everywhere (that's Orange and T-Mobile's joint venture) claimed to be ready to roll out its 4G network offering by the end of 2012. The company has already begun converting some of its existing mobile spectrum to the 4G standard.
However, Ofcom itself sounded out a warning back in December. Even though 4G will likely begin rolling out in around a year, it's unlikely to be widely available until 2015. Still a bit of a wait for most of us in the UK, it seems, but then the target is 98 per cent indoor coverage of the UK.