Later this month Ofcom are expected to announce plans to sell off spectrum which can be used for mobile Internet access, with the auction expected to take place mid 2011 according to Orange's Director of Spectrum Strategy. The precious spectrum up for grabs is the 800 and 2600 MHz frequency bands which will allow providers valuable extra bandwidth to offer services such as LTE and WiMAX. The '800MHz band' is the most attractive, and covers 790-862 MHz which is currently used for fixed broadcast including some digital terrestrial television (DTT) and performance making & special events (PMSE) uses. The plan is to free up this band to align with European plans to make this available pan-Europe for new mobile broadband services with an expected UK benefit in the region of £2 - £3 billion.
Radio spectrum is a highly debated issue and has caused somewhat of a ruckus before. Both Vodafone and O2 currently hold bandwidth in the 900 MHz band used for GSM services whilst the other UK operators only hold frequency in the higher 1800 MHz frequency for this purpose. The lower the frequency, the further a radio signal can travel, and the easier it is to penetrate into buildings, thus mobile networks are very interested in getting access to lower frequencies. Before the merger of Orange and T-Mobile was announced (they had to agree to give up 25% of their spectrum due to the merger), the government stepped in over the 900 MHz battle that was occurring to try and sort out a fair re-allocation. With the 800 MHz band being made available and a proposed repurpose of the 900 MHz band to allow it to be used for faster 3G and 4G services, all parties could become satisfied with the outcome.