Ofcom's eagerly awaited 4G auction has got underway, with seven firms competing for the right to launch super-fast mobile services in the UK.
Everything Everywhere Limited, HKT (UK) Company Limited (a subsidiary of PCCW Limited), Hutchison 3G UK Limited, MLL Telecom Ltd, Niche Spectrum Ventures Limited (a subsidiary of BT Group plc), Telefónica UK Limited and Vodafone Limited are competing for spectrum in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz frequency bands.
All of the UK's leading mobile broadband operators - O2, Orange, T-Mobile, Three and Vodafone - are represented in the auction.
The newly available spectrum will almost double the airwave capacity currently available to mobile broadband services on smartphones, tablets and dongles.
And as such, service providers will be able to offer faster downloads and wider coverage - allowing people to do more online on the move.
The competing firms are invited to place bids - for 28 lots of spectrum across the two separate bands - over secure connections, using software developed specifically for the auction.
The bidding will continue over several rounds and is expected to take a number of weeks until the final winners are known, Ofcom noted.
Once fees are paid, licences will be granted, enabling operators to start rolling out new networks.
The first 4G services in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands are expected to launch in late spring or summer 2013.
EE already offers super-fast mobile broadband services in the 1,800MHz band.
Ed Richards, Ofcom's Chief Executive, said the launch of the 4G auction is "a very significant milestone" for the UK’s communications sector.
"It will release the essential raw material for the next wave of mobile digital services," he noted.
"This will change the way we consume digital media in both our personal and working lives and deliver significant benefits to millions of consumers and businesses across the country.”