UK communications regulator Ofcom moved a multi billion pound auction of radio spectrum into its initial phase on Thursday, paving the way for a new range of digital services.

The “digital dividend” spectrum, which is in the much sought after UHF band currently used by terrestrial television broadcasters, is being freed up through the switchover to digital TV.

Transmissions in the UHF 470MHz to 862MHz band are able to cover large geographical areas with relatively few transmitters and penetrate buildings well, suggesting that popular applications for the spectrum will be fast wireless broadband services, mobile TV, or more digital terrestrial television channels in either standard or high-definition.

As a result, Ofcom has divided the available spectrum up into different packages: National digital terrestrial television in standard or high definition; cognitive radio, which can be used to create mesh networks capable of supporting a range of wireless applications; high speed mobile broadband and mobile television; local television; and PMSE spectrum, which will be available to the programme-making and special events sector, which principally use the spectrum for wireless microphones.

However, all the spectrum will be made available on a technology and service neutral basis and can be traded after award.

Ofcom will publish further consultations on the digital dividend in the spring of next year and plans to auction most of the spectrum in 2009.

Ed Richards, chief executive of Ofcom, said: “The digital dividend will be one of the most significant and valuable spectrum releases in the UK for 20 years. Our approach is designed to maximise these considerable benefits for UK citizens and consumers as a whole. We can expect the benefits of the digital dividend to include more choice, fresh competition and technological innovation.”