Why being late to 4G could help – not hinder – the UK

I’ve been pretty hard on Britain’s lackadaisical approach to adopting 4G technology in the past — and for good reason: after years of discussion and dithering, it was only on Tuesday that the country’s media regulator finally announced that it would be holding auctions for 4G spectrum, the first step towards an actual rollout. Even then it wouldn’t commit to a date, merely suggesting that U.K. users won’t get access to LTE until late into 2013 at the earliest.
This snail-paced affair is almost entirely of the industry’s own making, with network operators putting pressure on regulators to tweak and alter their proposals again and again and again, and regulators failing to put their foot down and get the process moving.
But while such politicking does nothing to burnish the UK’s reputation, is there a silver lining behind all the delays? Could this late rollout actually be a blessing in disguise?
Dean Bubley, the mobile analyst behind Disruptive Wireless thinks so.
“My view is that in these situations you either want to be very early or very late,” he told me earlier. “Had [Britain] gone first we might have something very different and more innovative in the UK… but I don’t actually see what LTE would offer the consumer that they didn’t have already.”
His argument is that Britain already has some high speed networking in the form of HSPA+, and although LTE offers increased headline speeds in some cases, that is not a particularly disruptive or remarkable advance. Instead, he said, the hidden virtue of this delay may be that it allows British consumers and businesses to avoid the pain of being early to market.
“I think there’s a lot of hype around mobile broadband,” he said. “Do you want to be an early adopter? If you want to look cool in front of your mates, yes. But if you want to get something really productive done, you’ll probably wait until the second generation.”
He’s not the only one.
Thomas Wehmeier of Informa also believes “being late to market with 4G is not necessarily all bad news.”
In a note on his blog, he said that while the delay leaves “light years” behind other countries, there may be some benefit to letting other people suffer the wrinkles and inevitable problems that adopting new standards involve.
“UK mobile operators and consumers alike will benefit from the fact that 4G in late 2013 will be a more mature technology, providing major benefits in the shape of a more stable technology, a greater range of devices and significantly lower equipment costs due to increasing economies of scale.”
That’s not all. Here’s a few responses that came my way on Twitter that either suggested Britain wasn’t ready yet — or that ordinary users shouldn’t feel too aggrieved.

And then there was a very consumer-focused one…

OK, that was tongue in cheek.
But perhaps it’s time to wipe those tears away. It may not be great news, but it may not be terrible after all.