Confused about all this 4G nonsense? You're not alone: A new survey full of eye-opening information suggests plenty of people don’t have all (or any of) the facts on the upcoming switch to the fourth generation of cellular network service.
Worse, though, is that many customers mistakenly already think they’re getting faster cell service than their phones are actually giving them.
The information comes from a survey of 1,000 iPhone, Android and BlackBerry smartphone owners from consumer product review site Retrevo. According to the survey, as many as 34 percent of Apple iPhone owners think they’re already receiving 4G service, even though no iPhone yet supports 4G, and it’s not even clear that 4G will be supported in the next generation of iPhone likely released in the fall. The survey also found that 29 percent of Android owners falsely believed their phones got 4G service, along with 24 percent of BlackBerry owners.
So, what is 4G?
Fourth-generation service, or 4G as it is referred to by telecom companies, is a bit of a nebulous term. There’s no hard-and-fast standard for what qualifies a service as 4G, and in fact, right now, it can mostly be characterized as “better than 3G,” the current wireless service available on the iPhone and most Android and BlackBerry phones. Several telecom companies, such as AT&T, have even been steadily reducing what is considered 4G by relabeling different, faster-than-3G services – like HSPA+, a data technology that is included in the iPhone but isn’t used – as 4G even though they’ve never been counted as such in the past.
Then there’s 4G LTE, or long-term evolution, which is a technology pushed by companies including (in a big way) Verizon. This is a significantly faster data transfer speed than 3G, and is requiring Verizon to overhaul its network. That’s leading to the company slowly adding markets over time to those with 4G LTE coverage. There are already some Android and BlackBerry phones on the market that can make us of 4G LTE, but the coverage is mostly confined to bigger cities. There’s no 4G LTE-capable iPhone.
The whole situation is so confusing that one lawmaker is actually sponsoring a bill that would require a set of standards in determining what qualifies as 4G and force carriers such as Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile to disclose what exactly customers are getting when they pay for 4G.
That law would be helpful to many of the people that took part in Retrevo’s survey: 30 percent of smartphone owners who responded to questions said a 4G data plan costs too much, while 22 percent said 4G coverage isn’t worth the cost. Another 19 percent responded that they didn’t know enough about the technology to answer.
Consumers still want iPhones regardless
Retrevo also found that 40 percent of iPhone owners will be buying a new iPhone regardless of whether 4G coverage is included or not, compared with just 8 percent in the Android camp and 23 percent of BlackBerry owners. That number might have something to do with the “stickiness” of iOS devices we told you about recently, since most iOS device owners also have invested about $100 in content for those devices, such as apps, and that content doesn’t work with other services. The survey found that for many wireless customers, 4G wasn’t a deal-breaker: 21 percent of iPhone owners, 12 percent on Android and 16 percent on BlackBerry said they’d consider a new phone without 4G.
In analyzing the numbers, Retrevo thinks that 4G adoption might be impeded by all this lack of knowledge, and the simple fact that it seems many wireless customers don’t really care one way or the other. Cellular carriers certainly aren’t helping as they go around not really explaining what 4G means or why it’s worth having, and many customers probably figure that they’re doing okay with 3G, so why pay more or adopt something new?
That’s an interesting attitude, and one that’s not entirely without merit, given the current atmosphere surrounding 4G. A little education on the subject might go a long way, because it seems as though wireless customers definitely need a reason to care and to feel the need to upgrade their service.