Everything Everywhere will be allowed to deploy 4G this year, at 1800MHz, while the other UK operators will just have to stand in line for next year's auction.
That might sound anti-competitive, but Ofcom reckons that any first-mover advantage will be short-lived and that the benefits of getting 4G deployed outweigh the competitive threat. The regulator labours its case in the proposal [PDF, epically repetitive] as the other operators might see it differently - they have until April 17 to put their case.
EE's rivals can't deploy 4G as they only have bandwidth at 900MHz and 2.1GHz (Vodafone and O2 have small slices at 1800MHz, but not enough for a decent deployment of LTE). There isn't much LTE kit that will work at 900MHz, and 2.1GHz is really packed with 3G signals. Having inherited spectrum allocations from Orange and T-Mobile, EE has plenty of spare capacity and wants to fill it with 4G signals.
Across the entire spectrum EE has 168.8MHz to play with. That's more than O2 and Vodafone combined, and dwarfs Three's paltry 34.1MHz. EE has so much spectrum that the EU has demanded it sell off 30MHz of it; 20MHz by November 2013 and the rest within the following two years, but even after that it will have 90MHz left within the 1800MHz region where LTE will happily play.
1800MHz isn't the perfect LTE band, the most internationally-harmonised band is 2.6GHz which (by happy coincidence) remains empty in the UK thanks to relentless litigation by T-Mobile (and O2) against a public auction. In Germany, France and elsewhere 2.6GHz is already filled with LTE signalling.
In Europe 800MHz is also internationally harmonised, and there's an increasing amount of LTE kit which can use 800MHz, but in the UK that won't be on the auction block until the end of 2012 at best.
So 1800MHz is probably third on the desirable list for LTE networks, but EE is the only operator who has enough of it to be useful. That won't help with the new iPad, which only does LTE on 700MHz and 2.1GHz, neither of which is going to be available in the UK any time soon.
Ofcom has been under tremendous pressure to get some sort of 4G deployed in the UK, as we've watched the rest of the world leave us behind, and the regulator now believes that giving EE a temporary monopoly on LTE is a price worth paying. Anyone who disagrees is asked to drop Ofcom a line. ®