4G adoption could be hampered by user confusion and skepticism

More than 25 percent of smartphone users wrongly think their devices are 4G-capable, as carriers try to pass off 3G as true 4G

About one-third of iPhone users believe their smartphone supports 4G mobile technology, while 29 percent of Android users and 24 percent of BlackBerry users hold the same view. In reality, though, all but perhaps some of the Android users are wrong.

A recent report from Retrevo revealed considerable confusion among smartphone users regarding 4G, along with a healthy dose of skepticism as to whether emerging 4G wireless plans -- some of which aren't really 4G at all -- are worth the extra cost. The findings foretell a slower adoption of 4G than wireless carriers might like to see.

Among those surveyed, iPhone users were the most likely to wrongly think their devices supported 4G: 34 percent held that view. Retrevo attributed that confusion to the fact that some iPhone 4 owners wrongly think the 4 stands for 4G.

Among the 29 percent of Android users who said their phones supported 4G, some may have been correct. Devices like the HTC Evo 4G and the Samsung Infuse 4G -- as their respective names imply -- are 4G-ready, Retrevo noted. It's tough to determine what portion of that 29 percent, though, were correct in their assessment.

About a quarter of BlackBerry also said their devices support 4G, but as with the iPhone, there are no 4G-capable BlackBerrys on the market today.

This confusion could prove a bump in the road toward broader 4G adoption. Users who think their phones can do 4G and want to upgrade their service could end up changing their minds when they learn they need to shell out extra money for a new phone.

Notably, though, not many users appear particularly keen on boarding the 4G bus. When Retrevo asked respondents if they planned to purchase a new 4G phone in the next year, 30 percent said no because 4G data plans are too expensive, 22 percent said no because they did not think 4G performance is worth the cost, and 19 percent said they didn't know enough about 4G in general to consider making the necessary hardware upgrade.

Those findings suggest that wireless carriers have to undertake important tasks. First, they need to get their respective 4G offerings up to speed, as it were. As it stands, some of the so-called 4G networks out there aren't really 4G at all. Rather, carriers have gotten away with slapping 4G labels on networks running "evolved 3G services" composed of IMT-Advanced forerunner technologies, such as LTE, WiMax, and HSPA+. As such, so-called 4G isn't living up to users' expectations.

On a related note, carriers also may have to win back subscribers who have been frustrated in recent years by confusing fees and  service plans. Retrevo noted that consumer frustration has prompted Representative Anna Eshoo of California to introduce a bill titled the "Next Generation Wireless Disclosure Act," which would force broadband service providers to be more detailed and forthcoming in advertisements and marketing materials.

Additionally, carriers will have to convince users that they really need that much mobile speed. Mobile-device makers as well as content providers will have to groom their respective offerings to lure users to upgrade.

This story, "4G adoption could be hampered by user confusion and skepticism," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.