While the mobile industry is firing up for the upcoming Mobile World Congress in Barcelona where it will present its innovative mobile technologies, networks, and solutions, we’ll probably be overwhelmed with buzz words like 4G, 5G, VoLTE, Internet of Things, and contextual services.
But I can't help but wonder how the average end user copes with the overwhelming amount of mobile network terminology and jargon?
MNOs’ advertising is endless. Their offers might differ from one another, but the one thing they have in common is they emphasize 4G/LTE in a loud voice and big letters.
Forget about the number of SMS and unlimited calls available each month with your mobile plan, what the MNOs want you to focus on is the Gigabits per month available on your plan, affectionately referred to as “Giga.”
The mobile savvy, the well informed mobile user, and the mobile obsessed teenager would know what that implies – for example, they’ll know how many movies or songs they can download on a Giga. But what about those subscribers that fall into the category that just want to make calls, go on the Internet and use WhatsApp? They don’t really know what they are getting, but do they really care? They should, and it should be thoroughly explained to them when they purchase their data plan.
I’ve encountered numerous people who mistake the term “Giga” for “4G.” When asked if they have 4G, they’d tell me, “I was told I get a Giga, isn’t that the same thing?”. Others don’t grasp the term “data plan” at all, and when asked if they have one, they’d simply answer, “I don’t know, I can go on the Internet with my phone, though!”
Then there are those that think they understand what 4G means and what having a “Giga of data” implies, but are scared of its speed thinking that it will use up their monthly data allowance too fast. When they’re told they could lower their data usage by using SMS instead of another over the top (OTT) messaging app for their texting, they’d reply, “Why? I’m not going on the Internet”.
I live in a so called “rural area” - in the European Union that translates to small towns, and we have thousands of those. I’d run across users being upset because the Internet is unavailable or apps on their smartphone don’t work. When I tell them the reason is the network they are on is “EDGE” or ”GPRS” versus 3G or 4G, they would look at me as if I were from Mars. They’re thinking, “I don’t understand what you are saying. I want my Internet, and I want my apps to work!”
This lack of understanding of the underlying mechanics of the network is not limited to the general user population; sometimes it is also the MNOs’ call center agents with whom lie the task of promoting the latest 4G offers to customers. When confronted by a potential subscriber who is savvy enough to know that there’s no 4G coverage in their area, some reps will still try to insist, “That’s because this is a unique offer that will expire in 5 days!”
So, here’s a short dictionary for those mobile end users and the agents who get to help them choose their plan, to better understand the networks out there (the cryptic letters next to the signal strength level on the smartphones), and data allowance:
Giga: The amount of data traffic allowed per month, for example 2 Giga is 2 Gigabits per month of data.
GPRS: General Packet Radio Service. All you need to know is that GPRS means you might eventually get a webpage to load or an email with no images or a text message, but it will probably take longer than the limit on your patience.
EDGE: Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution. It means where you’re standing is the wrong spot to get a 3G or 4G signal and you better move. Still, it’s better than GPRS!
3G: The third generation specifications describe a technology called UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) as its core network architecture. This network is meant to deliver a faster data rate with possible download speeds between 384Kbps to 2Mbps. Way better than Edge!
4G: The current fourth generation specifications provide for the fastest data network speed you’ll see on your smartphone. 4G is based on the LTE (Long Term Evolution) system, and has a theoretical maximum speed of 100Mbps. But don’t get too excited because you won’t ever get that fast of a connection. Average speeds can be between 3Mbps to 10Mbps, but relative to GPRS or EDGE, you’re flying!
Here’s my suggestion to the MNOs out there; 4G/LTE are the “must-use” buzz words in your ads and TV commercials, but don’t forget that many of your customers aren’t mobile network-savvy, so try to talk their language when selling your services.
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