LTE services across UK carriers are likely to launch in May or June 2013, regulator Ofcom has confirmed, setting dates for the 4G spectrum auction as well as reserve prices totaling £1.3bn. The application process will begin on December 11, with bidding itself starting in January and, Ofcom warns, potentially lasting for "a number of weeks" until winners - and costs - are confirmed by the end of March.
Ofcom has apparently developed a special auction tool for participants to use, with all bids submitted electronically. Depending on how long the bidding process takes, the final prices and list of winners will be settled in either February or March, with licenses granted as soon as buyers stump up the fees.
According to Ofcom's rules, exactly which of the bands each interested party will be able to bid on will depend on how many "points" they hold, calculated based on the size of the deposit they make initially. Meanwhile, there are limits to how much of the spectrum any one organization can hold, with a number of complex lists and provisos [pdf link] as to what combination comprises a "maximum" holding.
The 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequencies - freed up by the switch-off of analog TV signals - will be used for high-speed LTE service, with Vodafone, O2, and Three all expected to follow combo-carrier EE in launching a 4G data network. However, the various services won't be entirely compatible: EE's 4G, for instance, uses the 1.8GHz band, after the carrier's decision to reuse its existing spectrum holding rather than wait for new acquisitions in next year's auction.
That may cause some confusion as to which devices will work on which network, as UK users have grown used to being able to take out a 3G SIM from one phone and have it work in another, assuming both are not network-locked.