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The UK's 4G radio spectrum auction has been delayed, according to reports.

Much to the annoyance of mobile broadband provider Three, the government is set to push back the multi-million pound spectrum sale until mid-2012.

The firm has called on the government to keep to its original timetable – and publish the terms of the auction this month – but the threat of legal action from other mobile carriers is set to slow down the process.

According to the Guardian, the document will not now be ready until November, meaning the auction cannot take place in the first quarter of 2012 as originally planned.

Unlike Three, broadband providers O2, Vodafone, Orange and T-Mobile have spare 3G capacity on their networks, enabling them to expand without 4G radio spectrum.

A recent decision allowing the telecoms firms to reallocate spare 3G phone capacity for mobile broadband services has eased the pressure on their networks.

But Three, which is nearing full capacity, badly needs to tap into 4G mobile broadband in order to continue with its current rate of growth.

An Ofcom spokesperson confirmed that the regulator is still aiming to stage the 4G auction in the first half of 2012.

"However, we have always maintained it is an ambitious timescale," they added.

"This is a complex area, involving a large number of technical and competition issues that we need to consider and resolve before finalising proposals."

The spokesperson said that, because technical issues need to be satisfactorily resolved before new networks can be built, it will not be possible for mobile operators to start rolling out 4G networks until 2013 at the earliest.

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