The UK government is preparing to auction licences for the next generation of mobile internet connections, christened 4G, next year, the Business newspaper reported, citing a source at UK regulator Ofcom. To the dismay of the operators who paid a cumulative GBP22.5 billion (USD42.75 billion) for their 3G licences six years ago, an Ofcom spokesman was quoted by the newspaper as claiming that ‘auctions are the best way of bringing spectrum to market’. It is claimed that 4G technology is capable of transmission speeds up to 60-times faster than current W-CDMA networks.
According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms database, in April 2000 former regulator Oftel awarded five 20-year 3G licences consisting of three allocations of 2×10MHz paired spectrum plus 5MHz unpaired spectrum, one of 2×15MHz paired spectrum and one of 2×15MHz paired spectrum plus 5MHz unpaired spectrum. The last was reserved for a new entrant and was awarded to Hutchison 3G UK (H3G), a subsidiary of Hong Kong’s Hutchison Whampoa, whilst the four incumbent operators – Deutsche Telekom subsidiary T-Mobile (previously One 2 One), Telefónica subsidiary O2 (formerly BT Cellnet), Vodafone and France Télécom-owned Orange – took the other concessions. All five licensees have launched commercial 3G services and H3G leads the market in terms of subscribers, with around 3.6 million W-CDMA handset users at the end of March 2006. There were an estimated 5.4 million 3G subscribers in the UK at that date.