By Max Clarke

Ofcom has today announced plans for the largest ever single auction of additional spectrum for mobile services in the UK, equivalent to three quarters of the mobile spectrum in use today and 80% more than the 3G auction which took place in 2000.

This spectrum is essential to meet the UK’s rapid increase in mobile traffic, fuelled by the growth of smartphones and mobile broadband data services such as video streaming, email, messenger services, mapping services and social networking sites. All of these services depend on spectrum — the airwaves that carry information between customers’ mobile handsets and the internet.

The new spectrum will provide much needed capacity for the fourth generation (4G) of mobile technology, set to deliver significantly faster mobile broadband services — approaching today’s ADSL home broadband speeds.

Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards, said: “The auction is not only critical to the future of the UK mobile telecommunications market but it is also of significant importance to the wider economy. It will support a wide range of data services that are fast becoming essential features of the modern world.

“Our role as the independent regulator is to award this spectrum in a way that secures the best use of the spectrum for the benefit of citizens and consumers in the UK. That is why we are proposing to design the auction in a way that not only encourages investment but also promotes competition and delivers wide coverage of services.”

The auction will be for two spectrum bands — 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz. The lower frequency 800 MHz band is part of the digital dividend, which is being freed-up as the UK switches from analogue to digital TV. This spectrum is ideal for widespread mobile coverage. The 2.6 GHz band is at a higher frequency, and is ideal for delivering the capacity needed to deliver higher speeds. These two bands add up to 250 MHz of additional mobile spectrum.

The combination of low and high frequency spectrum available in the 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands creates the potential for next generation mobile broadband services to be widely available across the UK, while at the same time having the capacity to cope with significant demand, even in urban centres.