The UK's deployment of wide-scale LTE networks looks in even greater danger of lagging behind the European mainstream, as regulator Ofcom sets a likely timescale of 2014.
With the Nordic countries and Germany embarking on LTE roll-outs already, the UK - once tipped to be the first country in the region to release 4G spectrum in 2.6GHz - is lagging well behind.
Ofcom chief Ed Richards has outlined the proposed timetable for LTE, according to ISPreview.
Richards does not expect to complete the process of releasing LTE-suitable spectrum until the end of 2013, pointing to commercial networks from 2014 at the earliest.
Draft legislation put before the UK parliament by Ofcom sets out proposed timeframes for the release of “digital dividend” spectrum in the 800MHz band, and this is set to be auctioned simultaneously with the 2.6GHz licenses. Ofcom has also recently clarified its position on refarming GSM spectrum for 3G, and potentially 4G, offerings.
The 2.6GHz auctions have been repeatedly delayed by legal challenges, interference concerns and other problems. New JV Everything Everywhere only recently dropped its legal objection to the rules for refarming.
Yet even with those obstacles out of the way, the process will still be longwinded, according to the Ofcom roadmap.
The agency plans to publish a consultation on its assessment of future mobile competition, plus detailed auction proposals, by the end of February 2011.
It then plans to issue a statement on the auction dates and rules, as well as on ensuring competition in light of recent operator and network consolidation, in "early autumn" 2011, with full rules of the spectrum sale to be finalized by year end.
After that, applications from interested bidders, eligibility checks and actual bidding will take place in the first quarter of 2012, with licenses issued to winners by mid-year, and spectrum made available from the start of 2013. However, the full release of those licenses could still take the rest of 2013.
This will make the refarmed GSM frequencies even more vital for carriers and consumers. Ofcom recently ruled that allowing the cellcos to use their spectrum in 900MHz (in the case of Vodafone and O2) and 1.8GHz (Everything Everywhere) for non-GSM technologies would not damage competition.
The partners in Everything Everywhere, Orange and T-Mobile, had previously argued that Vodafone and O2 would have a competitive advantage, because their lower band licenses are more cost effective for covering rural areas, where the main 3G gaps lie.
However, now that the disputes have been addressed, without a requirement for O2 and Vodafone to surrender spectrum, these bands should be released by the end of next year.
Ofcom also recently announced a consultation on using the white spaces in broadcast spectrum for license exempt wireless broadband.