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UK Mobile Phone Users Gradually Warm to 4G

Nearly three-quarters of UK smartphone users now say they know about 4G, but cost still keeps people away

Six months back, when mobile network operator EE—formerly Everything Everywhere, and owner of Orange and T-Mobile—unveiled the UK’s first 4G mobile service in 11 cities, smartphone owners were rather underwhelmed. In fact, just 47% said they knew what 4G was, and less than one-third (32%) said they would consider a 4G handset when their phone contract was due for renewal.

By March 2013, nearly 72% of the more than 1,400 smartphone users polled by uSwitch.com said they knew about the technology—and well over half wanted 4G.

EE will also be cheered by evidence that over 16% of respondents said they were willing to switch to EE to get 4G quickly.

Many smartphone owners still have doubts about some aspects of the service, though. Fewer than 16% of those surveyed believed that the speeds would “live up to the hype” when 4G is rolled out to additional areas of the country. Beyond that, of those who said they wouldn’t be willing to switch to EE, the proportion of respondents saying the cost of 4G was too high for them had actually risen—from 31% in October 2012 to 38% in March 2013. And more than two-thirds (69%) expressed concern that their data bills would be much higher if they used 4G. Again, this was a greater proportion than in October.

So despite consumers’ growing enthusiasm for high-speed mobile services, it seems the UK is months—if not years—from significant penetration of 4G. When the market does take off, however, EE and other mobile operators will be looking for hefty returns. After all, more than 51 million people—some 80% of the entire population—will use a mobile phone in 2013, eMarketer estimates. Once 4G is widely available it will be the gold standard for mobile provision, and will attract tens of millions of subscribers.

4G is also crucial for brands aiming to develop more compelling advertising for the mobile audience, including rich media and video campaigns. Video ads served to mobile phones will account for £26 million ($41.2 million) in 2013, according to eMarketer projections, and are expected to be worth £233 million ($369.8 million) in 2016. As these ads become more sophisticated and data-rich, only smartphone owners with reliable 4G will be able to see them at their best.


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