MOBILE phones will soon be able to download films and computer games at high speed after the State sold licences to four phone companies allowing for a new generation of super-fast mobile services nationwide.
However, customers will be likely to have to pay significantly more if they want to avail of the improved service.
Four firms – Vodafone, O2, 3 Ireland and Meteor – stumped up nearly €1bn for the licences which will allow mobile users to use 4G services that are up to five times faster than their current 3G phone service.
That should make it possible for consumers with the right phones to access video calling without having to be connected to a traditional fixed-line or wireless broadband internet service. It should also enable users to quickly download large files such as films even when they're out and about.
"We can now look forward to the roll-out of much-needed faster, fourth-generation 4G mobile internet services which will maintain and boost this country's competitiveness," said Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte.
Alex Chisholm, the chairman of the communication watchdog Comreg, said Irish consumers will now be able to benefit from the "next generation of mobile devices" already available in some parts of the UK and US.
Mobile companies will also invest hundreds of millions of more euros to upgrade their infrastructure.
That means that consumers could end up paying a stiff premium if they want to access the new 4G services .
Tony Hanway, chief executive of O2 Ireland, told the Irish Independent that some type of premium will probably have to be paid by customers who want to use the new services.
In the UK, one mobile provider charges £36 (€44) a month for a basic 4G package, with the cost rising to as much as £56 (€70) a month.
Yesterday's auction was an early Christmas present for the Government. Almost €500m is set to flow into the nation's purse before Christmas – just as the Government finalises what's shaping up to be another brutal budget.
The four phone companies have agreed to pay a total of €855m to effectively renew existing licences and secure permission to use the airwaves to launch the new high-speed services.
They will pay another combined €373m in annual installments up to 2030 to cover the remaining cost.
The windfall is significantly more than the Government expected.
The Department of Finance had originally pencilled in about €165m this year from the so-called spectrum auction.
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