Study: wireless customers using 4G LTE experience fewer problems
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Study: wireless customers using 4G LTE experience fewer problems

The iPhone 5 incorporates 4G LTE technology. According to a new study that's a good thing.

Wireless customers who use 4G LTE-enabled devices experience fewer data-related issues, especially with slow connection speeds, than do customers who use 3G and other 4G-enabled devices, according to the J.D. Power and Associates' "2012 U.S. Wireless Network Quality Performance StudySM --Volume 2." The semiannual study evaluates wireless customers' most recent usage activities in three areas that impact network performance: calling, messaging and data. Overall network performance is based on 10 problem areas that affect the customer experience (in order of importance): dropped calls; calls not connected; audio issues; failed/late voicemails; lost calls; text transmission failures; late text message notifications; Web connection errors; email connection errors; and slow downloads.

Network performance issues are measured as problems per 100 (PP100) network connections, with a lower score reflecting fewer problems and better network performance. Carrier performance is examined in six geographic regions: Northeast; Mid-Atlantic; Southeast; North Central; Southwest; and West.

The study finds that the number of data-related problems, especially those related to slow connection speeds, is significantly lower among customers using 4G LTE-enabled devices than among those using devices with older 3G/4G technology standards, such as WiMAX and HSPA+.  For example, among customers with 4G LTE-enabled devices, the problem incidence for excessively slow mobile Web loading is 15 PP100, compared with the industry average of 20 PP100.

What's more, the overall problem incidence for excessively slow mobile Web loading is even higher among customers with WiMAX and HSPA+ technology (22 PP100 and 23 PP100, respectively). There are no substantial differences in problem rates for other data-related issues between 4G LTE and WiMAX and HSPA+ technologies, such as Web and email connection errors.

"It's very interesting to see the stark performance differences between the newest generation of network technology,4G LTE, and other network services that were the first offerings of 4G-marketed devices in early 2011," says Kirk Parsons, senior director of wireless services at J.D. Power and Associates. "With the network advantages of using 4G LTE technology, in terms of spectrum efficiencies and increase in data connection speeds and reliability, it's not unexpected that wireless carriers are rushing to expand and upgrade their networks to align with this latest generation of service."

According to Parsons, improving network performance, especially for customers using 4G LTE devices, may translate into incremental revenue by not only increasing monthly spending, but also lowering churn rates.  For example, the average monthly reported wireless bill among 4G LTE customers is $6 more than the average for smartphone customers (US$131 vs. $125, respectively).

This includes spending on additional data plan service such as mobile hotspots, for which the adoption rate among 4G LTE customers is 35% higher than among customers who have 3G and other 4G-enabled devices. In addition, the likelihood of switching among 4G LTE customers is significantly lower than among smartphone customers using other network technology (11% vs. 15%, respectively).

"Based on varying degrees of consistency with overall network performance, it's critical that wireless carriers continue to invest in improving both the voice quality and data connection-related issues that customers continue to experience," said Parsons.

For a 16th consecutive reporting period, Verizon Wireless ranks highest in the Northeast region. Verizon Wireless achieves fewer customer-reported problems with dropped calls, initial connections, transmission failures and late text messages, compared with the regional average. Verizon Wireless also ranks highest in the Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Southwest and West regions.

U.S. Cellular ranks highest in the North Central region for a 14th consecutive reporting period. Compared with the regional average, U.S. Cellular has fewer customer-reported problems with dropped calls, failed initial connections, audio problems, failed voice mails and lost calls.

The 2012 U.S. Wireless Network Quality Performance Study—Volume 2 is based on responses from 26,695 wireless customers. The study was fielded between January and June 2012.

-- Dennis Sellers

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