Anyone who has visited Japan will have experienced that sinking feeling of inferiority that comes from seeing how far behind we are in the field of mobile communications in the UK.
Japan first led the way in devices. By the late ‘90s, they were making handsets with capabilities that were only surpassed by the first iPhones. Although Cupertino currently sets the standard for mobile devices, Japan is still streets ahead of the UK when it comes to mobile download speeds.
Some countries are enjoying 4G connectivity at speeds that would be perfectly acceptable for a fixed-line broadband connection. In the UK, things will stay as they are for at least another three years.
Ofcom said recently that bidding for 4G licences has been scheduled for the end of 2012, and the final details of the bidding process will not be complete before April. As 4G will require lengthy implementation and testing times, UK users will not get high-speed mobile connectivity until 2015 at the earliest.
The US and Germany are set to launch 4G this year, and countries including South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Brazil are in the process of testing or implementing services.
This could be an embarrassment, a symptom of relegation to the second or third tier of the mobile communications league. More importantly, the delay could be detrimental to the UK's economy and competitiveness.
However, I welcome the news that UK consumers and businesses will have to wait another three years for 4G.
I would argue that we desperately need time to upgrade the UK's unprepared network infrastructure. Mobile data consumption is set to grow fivefold by 2017, and our creaking networks are having a hard enough time coping with the number of internet-connected devices, not to mention bandwidth-intensive data.
In 2011, the average mobile user consumed data on networks that cannot truthfully be described as 3G. And they will be consuming more.
What happens in datacentres and networks across the UK in the next three years will determine whether or not 4G will work in this country. So I urge consumers to be patient.
The three-year wait also affords opportunity to the channel, specifically to resellers of networking equipment and services.
Expanding data volumes and demands are forcing organisations to buy new technology well before they had planned to. And for every organisation that is taking the appropriate steps to prepare for 4G, there is another that still needs to be persuaded to upgrade their network.
The most successful channel players will be those who see this not as a cynical opportunity to up-sell, but as a chance to provide strategic consultancy, reasoned advice and effective solutions to the coming mobile data deluge.
So don't think of it as a delay – think of it as a period of grace. The hard work starts now.
Marcus Jewell is UK country manager at Brocade
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