New Survey Reveals Many U.S. Cellphone Users are Prevented from Adopting 5G for Technical Reasons

  • Gerard Kearney Avatar
  • Thomas Martin Avatar
By Gerard Kearney, Telecoms Consultant
and Dr. Thomas Martin, Chief Technology Officer
Updated on November 11, 2021
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According to a new survey carried out by Speedcheck, more than two-thirds of all 3G/4G users in the U.S. want to adopt 5G but are prevented from doing so because of technical obstacles.

The survey was carried out in October 2021 and was based on general cellular customer satisfaction, with additional emphasis on 5G. The survey attracted 2000 initial responses and 636 from users who have not yet adopted 5G.

One of the questions asked of 3G/4G users was, “What are your reasons for not adopting 5G?”

35.2% of respondents do not have a phone that is 5G ready

This is the most common reason cited for not converting to 5G. This group will undoubtedly include two main categories: consumers whose contract includes a phone and SIM-only users.

For customers whose contract comes with a smartphone, Telecoms.com reported last year that users are now waiting on average almost three years before upgrading their phone, up from the traditional two-year cycle. The extended reliability of existing phones and the high price of new devices are the main reasons for the longer upgrade cycles.

However, early adopters and tech enthusiasts have traditionally upgraded their phones every 18 to 24 months. For those whose only obstacle to adopting 5G is that they do not own a 5G phone, many will want to upgrade closer to the 24-month cycle. But this is still a long time. To capture this market, service providers need to be more flexible by offering 5G phone upgrade deals to 3G/4G users in quicker cycles, but only at affordable prices.

In the case of SIM-only users, the obstacle again will be the price of a new 5G phone. Unless service providers or high street phone stores in concert offer new standalone 5G phones at more affordable prices, or with attractive deals such as interest-free monthly payments, it is difficult to imagine these consumers migrating to 5G in significant numbers any time soon.

Figure 1: What are your reasons for not adopting 5G? 636 users who have not yet adopted 5G replied to this question.

29.0% of respondents said there is no 5G coverage in their area

This was the second most popular answer to why the 3G/4G users were not adopting 5G. Once 5G coverage reaches them, one can safely assume most of these will adopt.

While this bodes well for the future, it also highlights the need for cellular operators to up their game in rolling out their 5G service in more widespread populated areas, for example, in smaller cities and towns.

However, it is not that simple. It never is. While the terms of the 5G spectrum licenses bought by service providers dictate deadlines for the rollout of a 5G service - by population and geography - other factors can conspire to delay the 5G rollout.

One example is that the 5G rollout in the States depends on the re-farming of the 3G frequency spectrum to the 5G space. However, according to a recent Fierce Wireless report, the alarm/monitor industry filed a petition with the FCC to force AT&T to maintain its 3G network beyond its currently scheduled end-of-life because the alarm industry’s operation largely depends on it. AT&T protested that this would have an adverse effect on its 5G rollout progress.

Then there was the Covid-19 pandemic which slowed down the rollout of 5G during 2020, according to a Forbes report. Finally, there are the recent supply chain difficulties to consider, the impact of which we have yet to see on 5G equipment supply.

6.3% of respondents said their service provider does not support 5G

This was the third technical reason (not the third most common reason) that prevents users from upgrading to 5G. These providers do not currently possess a 5G license and therefore do not plan to have a 5G network in the foreseeable future. Many of these customers who want 5G will inevitably switch to a 5G-ready operator covering their area. Others may need more encouragement to do so.

By the way, the third most popular answer for not adopting 5G, amassing a significant 18.7% of the responses, was that the users were satisfied with their existing 3G/4G service. Therefore, cellular service providers who do not own a 5G license will retain a solid customer base.

In summary, the survey reveals that for over two-thirds (a total of 70.5%) of 3G/4G users who want to adopt 5G, technical obstacles currently prevent them from doing so, which, in turn, are primarily in the power of the service providers to help resolve.

For 8.4% of our respondents, 5G price plans are too expensive

Our survey further shows that while the price of 5G tariffs is a concern, it is by no means a showstopper. A previous global study carried out by Speedcheck demonstrates there are some great value 5G price plans out there. In the U.S., there is the “Essentials” plan from T-Mobile and the 5G “Unlimited” plan from Cricket Wireless, which offer relatively good value for money.

Only 6.4% of respondents cited health concerns as a deterrent against adopting 5G

Health concerns over 5G have always been a controversial subject. Our survey indicates that, again, this is not a big issue among consumers. Perhaps the multitude of studies on the safety of 5G published by the GSM Association and the ITU-T is finally making an impact.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there is a significant ready-and-waiting market out there that wants to adopt 5G but is prevented from doing so by obstacles that are primarily in the industry's power to help resolve.

5G cellular providers must be proactive in reaching out to this “two-thirds” expectant market with a more urgent and robust rollout strategy of their 5G networks and by offering great 5G phone deals that the consumer cannot refuse.

For those remaining more challenging obstacles, such as the delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and the subsequent supply chain problems, it behooves the government regulatory bodies to monitor the situation and assist all service providers in getting back on track with their 5G rollout.


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