CONSUMERS are set to get high speed internet access on their mobile phones next year but it may come at a cost.
High speed 4G access could cost phone users an extra €75 a year but will give them internet access 10 times faster than current 3G signal, allowing for speedy on-the-go downloads of films and data.
Phone watchdog ComReg is currently in the middle of a secret auction to award the valuable 4G mobile phone licences, but will not make any comment on the process.
It has been estimated that the State could net between €250m and €600m in the auction of airwave space needed to roll out this new service.
This airwave space is the part of the spectrum which has been used by analogue TV broadcasts, which will be freed up from October 24 when RTE switches to exclusively digital broadcasting.
However, mobile companies will not even confirm if they are bidding.
Both O2 and Vodafone told the Irish Independent they were legally precluded from commenting on the auction process, even to the extent of whether they had made a bid.
The process is shrouded in secrecy as the State is desperate to avoid the and legal wrangles that plagued earlier mobile phone licensing arrangements.
But Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said he expected the 4G licences to be awarded within weeks.
"I would expect it should be completed in about six weeks," he said.
The successful bidders would then have to prepare their own technical infrastructure to roll it out to customers, he said.
Industry sources said the first Irish 4G services are likely to come on stream during 2013.
Phones users in Britain have been warned they will have to pay around €75 extra a year for 4G access which will be rolled out there by the EE mobile company at the end of this month.