UK 4G data network delayed by legal hoo-ha till 2013

The spectrum auction for a UK 4G network has been delayed again thanks to legal claims from O2, Vodafone, Orange and T-Mobile.

Andrew Lanxon headshot
Andrew Lanxon headshot
Andrew Lanxon Editor At Large, Lead Photographer, Europe
Andrew is CNET's go-to guy for product coverage and lead photographer for Europe. When not testing the latest phones, he can normally be found with his camera in hand, behind his drums or eating his stash of home-cooked food. Sometimes all at once.
Expertise Smartphones, Photography, iOS, Android, gaming, outdoor pursuits Credentials
  • Shortlisted for British Photography Awards 2022, Commended in Landscape Photographer of the Year 2022
Andrew Lanxon
2 min read

The auction that would see slices of the radio spectrum doled out to make a 4G phone network -- speeding up our mobile data -- has been delayed again, following legal threats from O2, Vodafone, Orange and T-Mobile. The UK may not see 4G phones until 2013 as a result.

The three main providers (Orange and T-Mobile are combined as Everything, Everywhere) are kicking up a fuss about the allocation of the spectrum, claiming they will receive smaller slices of the pie than other firms.

The reason they may get smaller chunks is that they already have extra portions of the 2G spectrum, which can be used for the 3G network. The three providers argue, however, that the slices cannot be fairly compared and as such, all networks should receive equal delicious helpings. O2 argues that not handing out fair dollops is a violation of EU law. 

The ongoing legal battle is likely to rock the boat for underdog network Three, which is rapidly running out of capacity to accommodate all the unlimited data it offers -- if it doesn't get a fresh slice of spectrum, it may have to stop taking on new customers, instead working on a one-in-one-out system like a poorly organised club on a Saturday night.

Although the auction for the spectrum was supposed to go ahead in the first quarter of 2012, the Three network may have to go wanting for a while longer. Talking to the Guardian, Ofcom explained that with the ongoing legal and technical difficulties, "It will not be possible for mobile operators to start rolling out 4G networks until 2013 at the earliest, regardless of when the auction itself actually takes place."

A 4G network for the UK has been on the cards for a while, but until now, the necessary radio spectrum was taken up by boring old terrestrial TV. With the digital switchover in full swing, the spectrum is being freed up.

When 4G does finally land in Britain, we can all happily benefit from much faster mobile Internet speeds, and get our hands on the myriad 4G-specific phones that have so far remained with their feet firmly on US soil.