Ofcom postpones UK 4G auction

UK regulator Ofcom has announced that it will delay the 4G spectrum auction until the final quarter of 2012, at the earliest.

Ofcom said that it received a number of “substantial and strongly argued responses” to its initial plans and will undertake a further round of consultation to address issues raised.

“In light of these responses, and the significance of the decisions that we need to take—decisions that are likely to shape the future of the mobile sector in the UK for the next decade or more—we have decided to undertake a further round of consultation on these issues,” the regulator explained.

Ofcom said that it plans to publish a further consultation document around the end of 2011 and will then give stakeholders another opportunity to comment and respond to its revised proposals—a period that is likely to be at least eight weeks.

“Our aim will then be to make our decision and publish a statement in the summer of 2012. The auction itself would then follow a few months later – perhaps starting in Q4 2012,” the body said.

Ofcom tried to dismiss speculation about an impending delay to the auction as irrelevant last month, claiming that operators will not be able to roll out 4G LTE services until 2013 at the earliest, due to technical issues. However, through Ofcom pushing back the auction even further, operators could lose valuable time in their attempts to bring LTE to the UK at the beginning of 2013.

Vodafone, Everything Everywhere and O2 had each denied claims that they had been trying to stall the UK spectrum auction that is scheduled for 2012, following accusations from 3UK’s new chief executive David Dyson.

Responding to the latest development, a 3UK spokesperson told that the company understands Ofcom’s desire to get this competitive issue right, but that its UK competitors will gain from the regulator’s tardiness.

“This delay extends to 2013 the massive competitive and commercial imbalance created by the decision in January 2011 to enable the use of existing 2G spectrum for 3G data services,” said the spokesperson.

“Operators that currently rent low frequency spectrum for a fraction of its fair value will continue to get a free ride at the expense of UK taxpayers as prices for rented low-frequency spectrum will only be re-balanced at the time of the auction.”

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