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CANBERRA, Nov 21 AAP

November 21 2012, 8:19PM

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has taken over the role of the communications watchdog in the $4 billion sale of fourth generation (4G) spectrum licences for mobile phone and wireless broadband services.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) said Senator Conroy had directed the watchdog not to set the reserve prices until either the day after a further ministerial direction is given to ACMA or 60 days after the watchdog publishes a notice advertising the auction - which ever comes first.

Senator Conroy could subsequently direct ACMA as to the reserve prices it must set, the authority said on its blog.

The renewal of the expiring 15-year licences will be contested by the major telcos - Telstra, Optus and Vodafone - as demand for mobile services including voice, data, and wireless broadband continue to surge.

The auction for 700MHz and 2.5GHz wireless spectrum was planned for November but has been pushed out to April 2013.

Market analysts expect telco providers to bid strongly for the 700 MHz band, which will support the next generation wireless networks, particularly as more 4G devices such as smartphones and touch-screen tablets become available.

ACMA said the auction was still expected to be held in April 2013.