Ofcom: Many Britons have no plans to use 4G

image captionUK consumers are unsure of the benefits of 4G mobile services, according to analysts

Many people in the UK see no reason to upgrade to 4G mobile services, according to Ofcom research.

Just under a quarter of UK smartphone users have no intention of signing up to 4G, according to an Ofcom report.

Although many people are aware of the existence of 4G mobile data services, they have no immediate plans to upgrade.

People are unsure of the benefits of 4G and may have been put off by jargon, according to analysts.

According to Ofcom, over half of all people in the UK own a smartphone and their research found that 22% of people with smartphones strongly disagree that they will sign up to 4G in the future.

Almost two thirds of smartphone users are unsure about upgrading, or are unlikely to upgrade in the coming year, Ofcom said in its 2013 Communications Market Report.

Part of people's reluctance to upgrade may be because of the binding nature of their mobile contracts. Three in 10 smartphone users said they would like to upgrade to 4G, but are waiting until their current contract expires to avoid termination charges, said Ofcom.

Many people are unsure of the benefits 4G can give, said research director Jessica Ekholm of technology analyst house Gartner.

"4G is new and doesn't mean much to consumers," said Ms Ekholm. "Any technology is intangible - people ask: 'What does it mean to me?'"

She added that people will not become enthusiastic about 4G until they hold a handset and experience faster mobile internet speeds.

People being exposed to 4G will give them an appetite for 4G services, she explained.

"It needs to go viral. It needs people's friends and family to say '4G is fantastic'."

Acronym soup

Mobile operators have not done a good job of explaining how 4G can help in people's lives, relying on technical terms such as 'LTE' and 'megabits per second' to explain benefits, said Ekholm.

"At the moment it's acronym soup."

People also may have been put off 4G by higher data tariffs, she said.

4G services are generally more expensive than 3G. Consumer uptake will happen when 4G pricing comes down to 3G level, said Ms Ekholm.

Mobile operator EE is the only company in the UK to offer 4G at present, although O2, Vodafone and 3 all plan to offer 4G.

EE data plans have come down in price since it launched 4G services in October 2012, but the company does not plan to price 4G on a par with its 3G services.

EE will keep its 4G services on a premium tariff, the BBC understands.

The company said that people's awareness of 4G will increase and that 4G uptake will pick up pace.

"Awareness and adoption of 4G is growing at a significant rate already and this can only accelerate as other operators finally begin marketing the service too," said an EE spokesperson.

EE said that Ofcom's figures were derived from a survey conducted in April 2013, and that it had launched its 4G services in October 2012, giving people only half a year to have formed an opinion on 4G.

EE had 687,000 4G customers the end of June 2013, and expects to have one million customers by the end of the year, said the spokesperson.

4G benefits

Consumers and businesses will see the benefits of 4G in time, according to analyst Matthew Howett of independent consultancy firm Ovum.

4G gives consistently faster and more reliable service for video and music streaming, mobile gaming, and sending emails with large attachments, said Mr Howett.

"Eventually we will all be using 4G. It's like moving from dial-up to broadband," he added.

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