Most smartphone users want 4G but don’t have much info about it

by Phil Hornshaw

Cellular carriers have been really brandishing the term “4G” in marketing and advertising for months now, and it appears the media blitz is working.

According to a new survey from market research firm In-Stat, 75 percent of its 1,208 respondents said 4G is “one of the features their ideal phone would include,” as a story from Boy Genius Report states. However, when the survey takers were asked questions such as which carrier has the fastest 4G speeds, the respondents were at a bit of a loss. Many said they thought speeds were the same across all carriers, or they just didn’t know.

There’s no real unified standard for what qualifies as “4G” in marketing and advertising, so the term has basically come to mean “faster than 3G,” the current standard among smartphones in the U.S. While carriers are working to build 4G LTE networks, with Verizon and Sprint notably adding lots of markets all the time to their coverage, the providers are also marketing technologies that aren’t really 4G as 4G. A notable example is HSPA+, a data transfer technology that’s technically faster than 3G but not nearly as fast as 4G LTE. HSPA+ is currently available on lots of devices, but only recently did carriers such as AT&T start marketing those devices as “4G-capable.”

One lawmaker has introduced a bill in the U.S. Congress that would force telecom companies to have a real, unified definition of what 4G is and isn’t, but according to BGR, that bill isn’t expected to make it into law (even though it would be a really good idea and help protect consumers).

Despite the findings of the survey, there’s a lot to know and a lot of discrepancy among carriers when it comes to 4G LTE. The whole technology is relatively young and has not yet been fully implemented anywhere. Verizon intends to bring its 4G LTE network coverage to 35 more markets by the end of November, which would put it in 175 markets across the country. Sprint is also adding markets (albeit more slowly), and intends to offer the service in 120 markets by the end of 2011.

But with more and more smartphones using Google’s Android platform becoming 4G-capable, the whole market is getting more saturated and more confusing. If you’re looking for a 4G phone, it’s definitely worth doing a little research and comparison shopping before picking up your next Android device to make sure you’re getting the fastest speeds, and to make sure your area is actually covered by the service.