a a a Display Options Cymraeg
Follow Ofcom on Facebook Follow Ofcom on Twitter Subscribe to the Ofcom RSS Follow Ofcom on YouTube Follow Ofcom on YouTube

Independent regulator and competition authority
for the UK communications industries.

Search Ofcom


History of Cellular Services

A list of key events in the development of the UKs mobile networks.

Pre- 1985

The only two way mobile communications service available to the public was the radiotelephone system run by British Telecom. In 1985, the Government licensed two national operators, Cellnet (Telecom Securicor Cellular Radio) and Racal-Vodafone to provide a cellular radio service in the UK.

1985

Cellnet (Telecom Securicor Cellular Radio) and Racal-Vodafone awarded licences through an open competitive process to offer analogue cellular phones in the band 890 - 905 / 935 - 950 MHz.

1986

The Department of Trade and Industry and Ministry of Defence announce on 28 August 1986 award of further spectrum in 872 - 888 / 917 - 933 MHz to Cellnet (Telecom Securicor Cellular Radio) and Racal-Vodafone for use in central London to increase capacity.
DTI Press Notice: 86/613 - More Spectrum for Cellular Radio in London

1987

DTI confirm (14 August 1987) that Cellnet (Telecom Securicor Cellular Radio) and Racal-Vodafone will provide the UK part of the Pan- European digital cellular radio service (GSM).
DTI Press Notice: 87/476 Pan - European Cellular Radio Operators

1988

First demonstration of a prototype digital mobile telephone system that could operate anywhere in Europe, 18 February 1988.
DTI Press Notice: 88/115 - Britain takes lead in Cellular Radiophones

1988

Lord Young, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announces plans for Telepoint. A new service which allows subscribers to make telephone calls from public places using a portable cordless telephone, 28 July 1988.
DTI Press Notice: 88/573 - Lord Young announces plans for Next Generation of Cordless Phones

1988

Lord Young, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announces 250,000th Subscriber to Racal Vodafone and growth in telecommunications markets, 28 November 1988.
DTI Press Notice: 88/864 - Personal Communications heading for big bang says Lord Young

1988

Late 1988, the combined number of subscribers on the Cellnet (Telecom Securicor Cellular Radio) and Racal-Vodafone networks passes 500,000 with coverage exceeding 90% of where the population lives.

1989

DTI announces in January 1989 that out of 11 applicants Telecommunication Act licences would be awarded to the BYPS Consortium (Philips, Barclays and Shell), Ferranti, Mercury Callpoint and Phonepoint to run telepoint services.

1989

DTI outlines plans for the future of the UK's mobile communications services, 26 January 1989.
DTI Press Notice: 89/43 - Mobile Communications a brief outline

1989

Lord Young, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announces boost for mobile phones and publication of the consultation document Phones on the move, Personal Communications in the 1990s, 26 January 1989.
DTI Press Notice: 89/52 - Lord Young announces boost for mobile phones

1989

28 April 1989 consultation document Phones on the move, Personal Communications in the 1990s closes. Over 2000 copies were sent out and 56 responses were received.
DTI Press Notice: 89/466 - Lord Young calls for applications to run "Phones on the Move"

1989

Lord Young, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry sets out the next steps to take mobile personal telephones in the UK into the next decade. He announces the way in which operators will be selected to run the new personal communication networks (PCN 's) in the 1.7 - 2.3 GHz band to compete with the two existing operators and applications are invited, 22 June 1989.
DTI Press Notice: 89/466 - Lord Young calls for applications to run Phones on the Move

1989

Nicholas Ridley, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announces the response to the Government's call for applications to run Personal Communications Networks (PCN). There were 8 responses, 14 September 1989.
DTI Press Notice: 89/650 - Nicolas Ridley announces licence applications for Personal Communications Networks of the 1990s

1989

DTI announces improvements to the Total Access Communications System (TACS) specification to improve signalling and call reliability, 8 November 1989.
DTI Press Notice: 89/764 - New specification for the Total Access Communications System (TACS)

1989

Eric Forth, Minister for Trade and Industry announced licences to develop and operate PCN 's in the UK would be offered to Mercury Personal Communications Network (PCN) Ltd, Microtel Communications Ltd (a consortium of British Aerospace, Matra Communication, Millicom UK and Pacific Telesis UK (3) Ltd) and Unitel Personal Communications Ltd, 11 December 1989.

1990

Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announces agreement between the three licensed PCN operators to work together and co-operate in developing a common technical framework for PCN services in the UK and Europe. The new standard is to be known as DCS 1800. They will be expected to support the development of DCS 1800 and the provision of a common set of channels within the frequency band 1710 - 1880 MHz to allow roaming on an international basis, 23 August 1990.
DTI Press Notice: P/90/508 - Peter Lilley welcomes cooperation between PCN operators

1990

13 November 1990, the Government proposes to end existing telecommunications duopoly and consider applications for new licences from companies wanting to provide telecommunication services. This proposal is contained in the consultation document Competition and Choice in the 90's- Telecommunications Duopoly Review.
DTI Press Notice: P/90/670 - Competition and choice in the 90s - Telecommunications duopoly review Peter Lilley sets out proposals for the future

1991

Licences issued under Section 7 of the Telecommunications Act 1984 are awarded to Mercury Personal Communications Network (PCN) Ltd, Microtel Communications Ltd and Unitel Personal Communications Ltd, 9 July 1991.

1992

Mercury PCN and Unitel merge operations and rename themselves Mercury Personal Communications Ltd. DTI seeks proposals on future uses of the spectrum freed through merger.
DTI Press Notice: P/92/668 - Innovate proposals sought for Radio Spectrum released by merger

1992

Rabbit telepoint service begins in May 1992.

1993

DTI announces on 15th June 1993 that due to no interest in a third national PCN operator the spectrum released as a result of the merger of Mercury PCN and Unitel will not be allocated before April 1995.
DTI Press Notice: P/93/321 - Radio Spectrum to be held back until at least April 1995

1993

Mercury Personal Communications Ltd (trade name Mercury One-2-One) launches digital PCN service, initially within the boundary of the M25, in September 1993.

1993

Rabbit telepoint service ends in December 1993.

1994

Hutchison's Orange launches digital PCN services in April 1994.

1994

Cellnet and Vodafone launch digital (GSM) services.

1996

DTI announces on 23 February 1996 proposals for mobile spectrum over the next decade to maintain the growth and competitive nature of the UK mobile phone market.
DTI Press Notice: P/96/137 - DTI's proposal for mobile radio spectrum over the next decade

1996

DTI confirms key proposals to provide a clear strategy on radio frequency allocations for mobile phone services, 16 July 1996.
DTI Press Notice: P/96/554 - DTI confirms new mobile phone services and continued security for PCN Operators

  • Vodafone and Cellnet allocated channels to develop dual mode handsets;
  • Additional spectrum reserved for the two PCN Operators;
  • Vodafone and Cellnet to close analogue network by 2005.

1996

DTI and Radiocommunications Agency instigate the creation of the UK Third Generation Mobile Group (UK3GMG). A forum for operators and manufacturers to build consensus towards a UK vision for third generation systems.

1996

The Radiocommunications Agency announces on 31 October 1996 that the 888 - 889 MHz band for low power and anti-theft devices will be withdrawn. This change was part of the ERC Detailed Spectrum Investigation (DSI) to make more spectrum available for the growing GSM market.
Press Notice - Radiocommunications Agency P/96/812 - Withdrawal of 888 - 889 MHz Low Power Service

1997

Mrs Barbara Roche, Minister for Industry launches consultation on the framework for licensing operators to provide the UK's Third Generation of mobile communications systems for the next millennium.
DTI Press Notice - Barbara Roche 31 July 1997

1997

1 October 1997 The Wireless Telegraphy (Network user Stations) (Exemption) Regulations 1997 (SI 1997 No.2137), came into force to exempt end user equipment for cellular and other mobile services from licensing under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1949. These Regulations were developed by the Radiocommunications Agency to formalise the de facto licence exemption which operated for a number of years.

1997

1997 DTI receives positive responses from industry to its consultation on the framework for licensing operators to provide the UK's Third Generation of mobile communications systems.
DTI Press Notice - Barbara Roche, Minister for Industry, 18 November l997

1998

1998 Barbara Roche, Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry, in a written answer to a Parliamentary Question from Patricia Hewitt MP (Leicester West) confirmed the UK's position at the forefront of the third generation of mobile telecommunications.
DTI Press Release - 18 May 1998

1999

1999 DTI announces conditions for BT to Take Part and Conditions for Removing a Shareholding Restriction in Cellnet.
DTI Press Release - 29 January 1999

1999

DTI Sets out progress towards 3G Auction.
DTI Press Release - 9th February

1999

19 April 1999, The Wireless Telegraphy (Network user Stations) (Exemption) Regulations 1997 (SI 1997 no.2137) are amalgamated into the general The Wireless Telegraphy (Exemption) Regulations 1999 (SI 1999 No.930).

2000

Patricia Hewitt, the Small Business and E-commerce Minister names the applicants for 3G Mobile Licence Auction.
RA Press Release - 12 January 2000

2000

2000 Patricia Hewitt, the E-commerce and Small Business Minister today confirmed that all thirteen applicants for the 3G mobile spectrum auctions have qualified to participate.
DTI Press Notice - P/2000/99, 15 February 2000

2000

Patricia Hewitt, Minister for E-commerce and Small Business confirms that the 3G mobile auction will start on Monday 6 March.
RA Press Release - 18 February 2000

2000

Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Trade & Industry announces 3G Mobile Licence winners.
RA DTI Press Release: P/2000/296 - 27 April 2000

2000

Radiocommunications Agency Issues 3G Licences to One 2 One Ltd (became T-Mobile (UK) Ltd, now Everything Everywhere Ltd) and TIW Ltd (Now Hutchison 3G UK Ltd).
RA Press Release: RA/PN/2000/10 - 9 May 2000

2000

Radiocommunications Agency Issues 3G Licence to BT3G Ltd (Now Telfonica O2 UK Ltd).
RA Press Release: RA/PN/2000/11 - 16 May 2000

2000

Radiocommunications Agency Issues 3G Licences to Vodafone Ltd and Orange 3G Ltd (now Orange Personal Communications Services Ltd).
RA Press Release: RA/PN/2000/16- 1 September 2000

2001

Cellnet & Vodafone ceased their analogue services in summer 2001 ahead of the 2005 deadline. Analogue spectrum converted to GSM digital spectrum.

2006

Following an award process in April 2006, 12 licences were issued by Ofcom for concurrent access to a single spectrum block in the 1800 MHz range.
Award: 1781.7-1785 MHz paired with 1876.7-1880 MHz

2008

Ofcom made regulations to allow mobile services on aircraft
Statement: MCA Decision

2011

Following consultation and a Direction from the Secretary of State, Ofcom varied the 900 MHz and 1800 MHz licences of Everything Everywhere, Orange, Telefnica O2 and Vodafone to permit the use of UMTS in these bands.
Statement: Variation of 900 MHz and 1800 MHz licences

May 2011

Back to top