Consumers Not Quite Clear on What 4G Means

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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, and 13 percent said they thought it referred to an Android 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 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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