British smartphone users have had to watch from the sidelines as North American and Asian carriers roll out ever faster 4G networks. However, UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has today issued a initial ruling which represents the first step towards two leading networks' 4G plans coming to fruition. The regulator has preliminarily approved plans from T-Mobile UK and Orange (under the "Everything Everywhere" banner) to re-farm their existing 1800MHz spectrum for use with LTE and Wimax.

If this happens, it'll make Tmo and Orange the first UK networks to roll out 4G services. Rivals O2, Three and Vodafone all plan on launching LTE on 800MHz and 2600MHz bands, and these haven't yet been auctioned off. And 800MHz airwaves in particular are still used for analog TV broadcasts in some parts of the UK. Competing networks have until April 17 to respond to the ruling, but as GigaOM ​points out, Ofcom's wording makes it clear they've no worries that the plans will hand Everything Everywhere an unfair advantage.

Ofcom estimates that assuming final approval was given in Q2, EE would be able to light up its LTE network around the end of Q3 -- potentially a full year ahead of the rest of the pack. As we've seen in other LTE markets, major cities will probably see 4G services first -- and we'd expect Mifis and 4G dongles to hit the market before the first LTE-enabled smartphones appear. Nevertheless, the possibility of next-gen networks finally arriving in the UK is a tantalizing one, and we'll be watching EE's plans with interest.

Source: Ofcom; via: GigaOM