The telecoms regulator Ofcom yesterday at last pushed the start button on its auction of the 4G spectrum, which analysts say could raise up to £5bn for Government coffers.
Mobile operators, including Vodafone and Telefonica's O2, must put down a deposit by 11 December to apply for a spot in the auction.
They will be told if their bid was successful in February or March next year, before new 4G services will go on sale as early as May.
Ofcom claims the sale will be "the largest ever sale of mobile airwaves in the UK". It will most likely also be the most expensive asset sold under the Coalition Government.
The regulator set a reserve price for the spectrum, which was used for analogue TV ahead of digital switchover, of £1.3bn, but the final price is expected to be closer to £5bn.