What the 4G auction means for you: which networks won and lost?

Given it only paid £225m for the privilege (and an undisclosed amount from EE) Three looks to have done well for the deal, and you'll be able to connect your mobile in a variety of ways and cheaply too; Three isn't hiking its prices when 4G launches, which is ace.

What the network said:

"We have more than doubled our spectrum holdings in the past 12-months thanks to spectrum acquired at auction and outside the auction process. Doubling our capacity allows us to continue our growth with significant headroom to increase our current base of over 8m customers.

"Consumer appetite for enjoying the internet via mobile devices continues to grow, playing to our strengths. With a significantly increased spectrum holding we will continue to be the competitive force in the UK mobile market,"


Another big hitter in the auction, EE was surprisingly active for a brand that's already throwing 4G onto the market in a big way. What's MORE surprising is the fact it didn't go for the rural-powering 800MHz band as strongly as its rivals - it only has half the spectrum of Vodafone.

Sources tell us that this will allow it to offer a more wide coverage plan, and will allow things like being able to offer voice over LTE, which means rural areas can do useful things like, you know, talk to other people far away. However, this does raise concerns long term when the networks are required to carry more and more data and it won't have the bandwidth to keep up.


It's worth noting here that this doesn't mean the network won't be able to sort that out though, as Ofcom will allow trading of spectrum to happen now the auction is nearly done and dusted.

So in essence it seems EE is a good bet for the medium term, not least because it's already got a strong network infrastructure in place for actually deploying said spectrum, and in the cities it will supercharge its powers with a veritable glut of 2.6GHz frequency - in fact, it's nabbed the most out of any network in the race so will have a strong play going forward.

What the network said

"EE is extremely pleased with the outcome of the spectrum auction. Coupled with our existing 1800MHz 4G network, it consolidates our position as the most advanced, largest and most capable 4G operator in the UK.

"The acquisition of low and high frequency spectrum allows us to boost our superfast data services and coverage - indoors and outdoors, in cities and the countryside.

"This result means that we are perfectly placed to meet future data capacity demands - further enhancing the superfast 4G services we already offer the UK's consumers and businesses."


The effervescent network has sprung something of a surprise by only winning a portion of the 800MHz spectrum, and completely eschewing the 2.6GHz area. Word is that it's simply not cost-effective to be bidding for the higher frequency when it can fill that gap with Wi-Fi hotspots in the cities, which seems like a bold move when it's already spent £550m on nabbing the lower-end spectrum.

As part of that deal, O2 has got a coverage obligation, which means it will have to make sure that it reaches the widest amount of the country (including indoor coverage). This could have a knock on positive effect for Vodafone too, as the two networks share sites to help lower the cost of extending out their coverage across the UK.

Of course, O2 will be looking to leverage its existing spectrum to make sure it can offer the widest range of 4G possible, but given its already been liberalising its own 2G to help bring more 3G coverage to its customers, that space is getting pretty tight.

Gareth Beavis
Formerly Global Editor in Chief

Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.