Plans for an auction of high-capacity radio spectrum used by the MoD and ideal for 4G services have been announced by Ofcom.
The regulator said today that an auction for the 190MHz of spectrum in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands will take place late next year or early in 2016 with a total reserve price on the lots of between £50m and £70m.
While no specific uses for the spectrum have been prescribed by Ofcom, the most likely customers are mobile operators looking to respond to the growing demand for mobile Internet services. The spectrum on sale is the equivalent of three-quarters of that released in the 4G auction last year which raised £2.3bn.
The frequencies to be released by Ofcom are all below 5GHz, forming part of the radio spectrum regarded as particularly attractive in supporting a wide range of potential consumer applications due to their high-data capacity.
The move is part of a wider government initiative to free-up public sector spectrum for civil uses and the MoD has given assurances that releasing the spectrum into the commercial domain will not affect national security.
Philip Marnick, Ofcom spectrum group director, said: "Today marks an important step in ensuring that the UK has sufficient spectrum to support our wireless economy.
"It comes in response to the fast pace of change and innovation taking place in the communications sector, which is placing increased demands on how spectrum is used by all industries. One important way of meeting this demand is making new spectrum available and its use as flexible as possible."
The 3.4GHz band up for grabs is already used for wireless broadband by the operator UK Broadband Relish mobile broadband service in London as well as in five other countries including Canada and Spain.
The 2.3GHz spectrum has not been used for 4G in the UK before, but has been used in ten countries outside Europe including China, India and Australia, and handsets such as the Apple iPhone 5 and 6, HTC Desire and Samsung Galaxy are already compatible with the band in other markets.
In its statement Ofcom announced plans to auction the spectrum in 38 lots of 5MHz with a reserve price of between £2.5m and £5m per lot for the 2.3GHz spectrum and £1m for the 3.4GHz spectrum. Bidders would be required to bid for a minimum of four lots per band.
The regulator has also proposed a cap limiting the mobile spectrum holdings of any one operator to 37 per cent of relevant spectrum, which would include the newly-auctioned spectrum.
A consultation on the plans closes on 23 January.