If carriers build 5G, will consumers buy it?

As mobile operators begin their initial deployments of 5G technologies in the U.S., they are betting that the next “G” will draw new customers and new revenues. With fixed wireless access and enhanced mobile broadband as the initial 5G use cases from Verizon and AT&T respectively, the consumer market is a clear target. But two recent surveys of consumers’ early understanding of 5G show mixed levels of awareness and enthusiasm about 5G and the infrastructure it will take to deliver it.

Six in ten consumers are familiar with the term “5G,” according to PwC, drawing on data from an online survey in May of this year.

“Familiarity skews heavily towards males under the age of 35 (76% vs. 61% of older males and 52% of females),” PwC said in a new report based on the survey results. “5G familiarity is also higher in cities and suburbs than in rural areas (64% vs. 49%).”

Once 5G was defined — with a brief description as the next generation of wireless technologies that is “expected to bring faster speeds, shorter delays/buffering, and increased connectivity” and with”the potential to completely change the way we interact with wireless devices, from smartphones to cars” — PwC found that it was generally well-received — especially among young men.

“Nearly three-quarters of respondents said [5G] was ‘very appealing’ … with younger males again being most enthusiastic (84%). There was also a noticeable decline in enthusiasm with age,” the firm said.

The aspects of 5G that consumers found most interesting were faster data speeds and better reliability, as well as “more cost-effective data plans,” which PwC had offered up as one of the potential benefits of 5G. Still, seven out of ten respondents said that if they needed a new device to utilize 5G, they would wait until they were eligible for an upgrade rather than buying a new device as soon as it was available. The likelihood of a more rapid upgrade was higher among young men (43%) and households with an income greater than $100,000 (40%). There was also a difference on a demographic basis: Hispanic customers were most likely to say that they would upgrade their devices sooner to get access to 5G (45%), followed by African-American respondents (37%), while only 26% of white respondents said that they would buy a new device for 5G regardless of their upgrade status.

PwC also found that its survey respondents were generally open to additional network infrastructure, when asked about their willingness to accept small cells on streetlights or poles.

“Consumers feel that the additional equipment is a small price to pay to enjoy faster download speeds and more cost-efficient data plans,” PwC concluded, noting that “the majority of consumers (69%) feel the benefits of 5G outweigh however unattractive these small cells may be” — although an even more positive response of 80% came when small cells were described as blending into the surrounding environment.

The online survey gathered results from a nationally representative sample of 800 Americans between ages 18-64 who have access to the internet, PwC said.

While PwC’s survey paints a rosy picture of consumers’ likely reception of 5G, a less optimistic take came from a similar survey conducted earlier this month — this time, by cellular booster reseller Repeater Store. Repeater Store conducted an online survey of 1,039 American adults between October 3-6, also with a nationally representative sample.

Repeater Store’s survey found that when asked, “Did you know that carriers are working on rolling out 5G?” 60% of respondents said no — however, 48.2% of T-Mobile US subscribers said that they were aware of 5G activities, higher than any of the other carriers.

“The bulk of national 5G marketing is yet to come, but clearly there’s quite a bit of work to be done to get the word out,” the company concluded.

Asked how clearly they understood the benefits of 5G, only around 20% of survey respondents said they were very or extremely clear on that — while 28% were not at all clear on what benefits 5G is supposed to provide. But Repeater Store did find that about 60% of respondents were at least somewhat excited about the technology after being made aware of it — and more than 15% said they were “extremely excited.” Still, that meant about 40% expressing ambivalence. Around 75% did say, however, that if their mobile operator offered a 5G broadband offering, that they’d at least consider using it. Broken down by carrier, AT&T had the highest rate of respondents who were already its customers indicating that they would use a 5G residential broadband service: 21.3%, with another 7.6% giving it a “maybe.”

Repeater Store also asked respondents about their current experiences as 4G LTE users, and found that nearly 20% of participants had LTE signal issues at either home or work (Verizon customers were most likely to report their experiences as “excellent”).

“Clearly there are still significant challenges to providing adequate LTE coverage, despite 5G being around the corner,” the company noted. And finally, Repeater Store asked respondents about whether they believed that cellular radiation increased the risk of cancer, about 30% said yes, which the company said probably means that “carriers will likely continue to see resistance as they attempt to aggressively roll new 5G towers out across the country.”

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