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4G auction result to be probed by government watchdog

The National Audit Office will investigate the £2.3bn raised in the auction of 4G spectrum to see if the government got value for money.

Whitehall wonga watchdogs are to probe the 4G sell-off. The National Audit Office will investigate the £2.3bn raised in the auction of 4G spectrum to see if the government got value for money.

The government has drawn stick for the amount earned from phone networks buying airwaves to use for extra-fast LTE Internet connections to mobile phones and tablets. Even Ofcom, which organised the auction, reckons the sale could have raised up to £5.2bn.

Controversially, the Conservative government factored an expected windfall of £3.5bn into the budget before the auction had even taken place, and was consequently caught short by £1bn. 

The investigation doesn't necessarily mean there were shenanigans or rank incompetence, as the independent parliamentary body probably would have examined the auction anyway. A similar NAO analysis was carried out after the 3G airwaves were parcelled out in 2000.

3G bonanza 

Compared to that auction, the 4G proceeds look like peanuts. Selling off the 3G spectrum netted the then Labour government an eye-popping £22bn.

3G was essentially the first time that phones and mobiles devices could connect to the Internet in any meaningful way. It represented a revolution that, coupled with the arrival of the iPhone -- and Android shortly after -- heralded the transformation of the mobile phone into the smart phone, and shifted the focus of modern technology onto mobile devices, apps and the cloud.

But where 3G was a genuine watershed moment, 4G is just a bit faster. No wonder the networks are in no hurry to dig out their wallets -- especially as there's no clear way to milk 4G for oodles of boodle.

4G forthcoming 

Three is the first of the networks to promise it won't charge extra for 4G. With EE's premium service failing to do boffo business, it's understandable that networks aren't keen to splash the cash.

Whatever form they take, O2 and Vodafone's 4G services are expected to launch very soon -- we'll keep you posted on dates and deals.

Is 4G a big deal? Did the government handle the auction properly or is the whole thing a steaming pile of political chicanery that needs to be looked into hard? Tell me your thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook wall.