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Consumers Not Quite Clear on What 4G Means

With 4G now a battle cry taken up by all the major U.S. wireless carriers, it’s not surprising that consumers are generally aware of the term. But understanding what it means is another thing altogether, according to a Nielsen Company survey, which discovered only two out of five people understand what they’re talking about when it comes to 4G.

The survey of 2,100 people found that 83 percent of respondents are aware of the term 4G, but of that group, 49 percent said they don’t understand what it means. But when you ask people who think they know what 4G means, you still get some confusion. While most get the idea that it generally means faster speeds, 27 percent said they thought 4G meant the iPhone 4 (s aapl), and 13 percent said they thought it referred to an Android (s goog) device on T-Mobile.

The fact is, 4G has been a marketing buzz word that has been bandied about increasingly with little regard to what 4G was originally designed to be. Though it was originally meant to designate speeds of 100 megabits per second down and other requirements, the International Telecommunications Union last month relaxed its definition to include any substantial improvement in performance over 3G, allowing LTE, WiMAX and HSPA+ to all claim 4G status.

It’s inevitable that all the carriers would push the 4G label on whatever they could to sell new phones and service plans. AT&T (s t) was the latest yesterday, touting its HSPA+ improvements as 4G. But the real challenge will lie in getting people to understand what this all means. Speed is nice, but the carriers have to tell a better story about how 4G can change the way consumers use their devices. They have to get more specific about how it will improve video chatting, speed up downloads and feed our hunger for mobile information. Just throwing out the word and hoping that consumers will latch on doesn’t quite cut it.

The upside is that a fair amount of people sound interested in what the 4G is. About three out of ten people said they will buy a 4G device in the next 12 months. That means people are generally open to making the step up in mobile technology. But to seal the deal, operators need to show them why 4G matters in a technology world already full of jargon and hype.

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7 Responses to “Consumers Not Quite Clear on What 4G Means”

  1. Nah, you don’t have to prove anything to consumers.
    Go back and ask ’em what 3G means. Then ask all the clueless ones if they have it. Yep, they do. And it’s *important* !
    All you have to do to sell today is create buzz.

  2. With the new net neutrality rule being implemented in the US, and if other follow suit, the usage of Mobile internet will rise substantially. 4G, then, would play an important role in the internet world. As of now, as mentioned in the comments above, people are quite satisfied with their 3G connection. It would be this simple, people will deep pockets take 4G, rest will enjoy 3G.

  3. rmaenza

    I agree with Tom, most consumers are pretty happy with their 3G speeds as long as the price does not speed up. Business people might need the 4G upgrade but it depends on the phone and network. mainstreethost

  4. I refelected a bit on this post and had to laugh. Lol. I’d argue that it has been us in tech and media who have made this issue. We should point to outrselves for pointing out the tech before pointing out what we are solving with it that’s relevant to others. Yes, carriers have a marketing angle to play, but understanding the real from the fluff lies with us. I guess you can say that this article challenges me personally to do a better job of saying why this is relevant, not just touting it for being new.

  5. Consumers DO care about speeds. They may settle for slower connections for a lower price, but that’s because the service carriers offer have become a commodity.

    Consumers care about their speeds, but not in terms of how many Gs carriers say they are getting, they measure their speeds in terms of how long it will take to upload the picture they just took to Facebook, or whether they can watch that YouTube video without any stuttering.

    Carriers need to take a hint and adjust their messaging to the mindset of their target audiences.

  6. while confusing it is not nearly as confusing as 3.5G, 3.75G or other fractional G’s that techies like to refer too.

    i work in the cell phone business and clearly can see that most consumers really have no understanding of any of this. many believe that all that is needed is the network upgrade and all phones get faster. an equal number think is all in the phone and the network does not matter.

    the market i live in work in only got wimax a few days ago but for months i have been hearing stories about how extremely fast peoples EVO’s and EPIC’s are because of sprints 4G network. these people really believed they were using 4G and not 3G CDMA.

    too be honest about it all i really don’t think consumers care much at all about speeds. they are actually pretty happy with their 3G speeds and would very much prefer to have lower monthly costs instead of a speed boost.

    • Ryan Kim

      Thanks for the comments. Yeah, many consumers are just happy with their speeds now and price is more important. And with HSPA+ now being called 4G, many consumers are going to think they’re going to get 4G speeds with their old phones, which could also cause confusion.