How mobile usage changes when customers get 4G speeds

This month, the news on everyone’s lips is that EE has commercially launched the first major 4G network in the UK. If anyone has came across the EE twitter feeds or media reviews – you will have seen that a lot of the abuse or shall we call them ‘discussions’ has been due to the low amounts of data included in the monthly data allowance. Customer’s hoping to hop over to EE’s network and take full advantage of their shiny new network have been highly disappointed by the entry level 4G monthly plan with a 500MB data allowance – although they are among a large group of Mobile Operators who have this as their set entry-level plan.

Note to everyone (especially any EE folks): We are using the EE 4G network and so far it is excellent, so no EE-bashing here from a company grateful to finally have 4G speeds in the UK.

These Mobile Operators will have carefully thought through their monthly data allowances, especially to match the radio spectrum they have access to. However, what these price plans miss is the opportunity to deliver the changed mobile user experience that’s possible with 4G. Here is what we’ve seen on 4G networks around the world

We’ve witnessed that 4G delivers such an improved mobile data experience over 3G that 4G changes customer usage habits. However, this change in usage habit depends on the user often having a 4G connection and, crucially, not having to constantly monitor their data usage to ensure they stay within their monthly allowance. Under these conditions, the changed, richer mobile internet experience occurs.

The changed usage habits we’ve witnessed can be summarised as:

  1. Users swapping text and pictures content for the equivalent video content
  2. Users doing it now rather than waiting till they got home to their WiFi
  3. Users consuming less of their pre-loaded content and more online content

Some witnessed examples:

  • Smartphone users who previously read the news report of Barcelona running riot at the Nou Camp (a ~200KB download including banner adverts) can now watch the 2 minute video highlight (a 20MB download) and receive a far richer experience of the game and witness Messi making defenders dizzy yet again.
  • Keeping up with the latest news on the way home is a 5 minute video (50MB) rather than clicking through 10 pages on your favoured news site (2MB)
  • Streaming TV shows, whether its your favourite history show or you're a closet Friends fan are available from Catch-up Players while commuting or at the airport, rather than watching previously loaded content. Especially at airports, 4G now offers a far better experience than free airport WiFi services
  • Sales people using 4G for online product demos at customer sites, rather than having to ask “Do you have a guest WiFi I could use to run the demo?” We’ve got direct experience doing this. The Ciqual online product demos run very nicely on all 4G networks we've used (cough cough)
  • Smartphone users streaming new tunes from Spotify and online radio stations instead of listening to their own (on-device) back catalogue yet again. This change started with 3G and we've seen it grow with 4G. Doesn't the Mobile Operator want 4G to encourage take-up of more online services, especially when they have Operator billing for such services?

There are other examples, but the point is each of these is an improved user experience and it’s because the user has access to a 4G network and is not continually worried about using up their monthly allowance.

While, in isolation, each of these changed user experiences may seem incremental rather than revolutionary, each is an everyday change for the user which makes them feel more connected to what’s important to them; and each change uses 10x - 100x more data from the users monthly allowance.

We should make it clear we are not advocates of unlimited data bundles. To the contrary, data caps MUST be employed on 4G networks as we've witness unscrupulous users driving Gigabytes and Terabytes of Bit torrent traffic across 4G networks if they have unrestricted access. (see 10 lessons Mobile Operators learned when we measured their 4G Customer Experience)

As a side-note; doing a speed test over 4G with a very good 4G connection can consume up to 53MB. That’s 10% of the monthly data allowance on some entry-level 4G plans.

So, for now, we are seeing Mobile Operators positioning 4G in 2 different ways; those with smaller data caps seeing 4G as a way of doing “3G things” much faster, and those with larger data caps who are truly offering a changed mobile user experience

CIQUAL provide a Study Package to measure end-to-end 4G Customer Experience . Designed for Mobile Operators, this service measures the actual experience of 4G customers, providing a set of actionable reports and dashboards for Senior Management, Marketing, Networks and Devices teams.

Would you like to discuss a 4G Customer Experience study of your users? If so, get in contact at