The big problem with new technology tends to be getting people to understand what it all means. Take 4G, for example. It doesn't seem to matter that people have been talking about the next-generation connectivity standard for a couple of years now, most of us still seem pretty unsure about what it actually means.
A recent Nielsen survey in the US presented nearly 1,000 consumers who said they had an understanding of what 4G was with a set of statements, asking them to choose which accurately described the technology.
The good news was that the most popular description – though still chosen by only 54% of respondents – was the most correct one, namely that 4G is a wireless data standard at speeds of 100Mbps-plus.
Less impressively, though, a quarter of those claiming to be in the know on 4G believed the iPhone 4 to be a 4G device – good news for Apple, of course, but not for jargon-busting.
On top of that, more respondents said 4G referred to a new Android phone from T-Mobile than correctly picked out WiMAX or LTE as 4G technologies.
That from the just 51% of the original survey sample who actually said they know what 4G was in the first place.
Part of the problem comes in the gap between aggressive mobile firms' advertising campaigns and the official definition of 4G as set out by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Under the latter's original definition (the one referring to 100Mbps connection speeds), none of the popularly advertised '4G' technologies – HSPA+, WiMAX and LTE – actually qualify to use the term.
In December, though, the ITU softened its stance, and admitted next-gen standards could be classed as 4G technologies if they offered a “meaningful improvement” over 3G speeds.
Consumer culture doesn't seem to be suffering too much from the confusion, however. The same survey that showed that just half of people think they have an idea what 4G is – and that a lot of them are wrong – revealed that three out of 10 nonetheless intend to buy a 4G smartphone in 2011.