LONDON (Reuters) - Communications regulator Ofcom said it expected mobile operators to be able to provide faster, fourth-generation services from June next year as it set out its long-awaited plans for a spectrum auction.
Ofcom said prospective bidders would be able to submit their applications with an initial deposit from December 11, with bidding beginning in January and licences granted in February and March.
Ofcom said the reserve prices for the spectrum would be a combined total of 1.3 billion pounds.
"Today marks an important shift from preparation to the delivery of the auction, which will see widespread 4G mobile services from a range of providers," Ofcom Chief Executive Ed Richards said.
Mobile operators Vodafone and Telefonica's O2 are desperate for the auction to begin after market leader EE, owned by France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom, rolled out its new service to great fanfare last month.
EE was given the go ahead by Ofcom to launch its service early on existing spectrum. The decision was a calculated move to kick-start 4G, and make the operators agree to a timetable for the spectrum auction and delivery of services after lengthy delays.
Ofcom said download speeds on initial 4G networks could be around 5 to 7 times faster than those provided by 3G networks, paving the way for a superfast broadband era where consumers can watch video and surf the Internet on the move.
Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Paul Sandle