Ofcom has set out proposals to extend 4G mobile services

Ofcom sets out proposals to extend 4G mobile coverage

An auction of 4G licences will allow smartphone and tablet computer users to stream and download almost anywhere in the UK, Ofcom says.

Under the UK regulator's proposals for conditions at the auction later this year, at least 98 per cent of the population would have access to 4G mobile broadband. It would set the scene for an explosion in tablet and smartphone use as demand for mobile data in Western Europe is expected to go up by more than 500 per cent over the next five years.

The new licences will give operators access to frequencies freed up as the UK switches off analogue TV and moves to digital.

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said: "This is a crucial step in preparing for the most significant spectrum release in the UK for many years.

"The proposals published today will influence the provision of services to consumers for the next decade and beyond."

A similar auction for third generation bandwidth in 2000 saw the Government rake in £22.5 billion, but that was at the peak of the dot com boom.

In the current economic climate it is believed this year's auction may generate between £1 billion and £5 billion.

Ofcom's proposals would particularly benefit people living in rural areas where there has been no commercial incentive to set up new mobile infrastructure.

During a first consultation between March and May 2011, Ofcom suggested that one 800MHz licence should carry with it the obligation to spread the 4G network to 95 per cent of the UK.

Ofcom now says the 800MHz operator should be required to either provide 4G to 98 per cent of the country or match existing 2G coverage and extend into mobile "not spot" areas.

In October, the Government announced plans to invest £150 million to boost mobile coverage in those areas with poor or no mobile service.

Ofcom's stakeholders now have 10 weeks to comment on the revised proposals and a final decision on how the auction will work will be made by the summer.

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