5G has an image problem with consumers – can telcos change that?

5G image problem telcos
Image by StudioRomantic | Bigstockphoto

Despite the range of potential uses for emerging 5G technologies, consumers are still largely in the dark. How can telcos better advertise the benefits of 5G based on where customers see value?

But with articles titled “The terrifying potential of the 5G network” being splashed across the pages of The New Yorker, is it any wonder that customer awareness is growing, yet intent to switch over is dropping?

5G is expected to be the fastest-growing mobile generation in history, with an anticipated 600 million subscribers by the end of the year, but this speaks more to the pained rollout of previous generations, rather than the success of this latest iteration.

Those lucky few users with a 5G handset located in a serviced location are using over twice as much data as those on 4G, with T-Mobile USA’s top-tier users burning through an average of 35GB per month. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise – faster connections will naturally lead users to indulge in more data-intensive content (such as high-definition video streaming).

For the time being though, until the networks have reached maturity, 5G is for the most part only marginally better than 4G, and customers are, by and large, content with their current service. And with patchy coverage outside of major urban centres, customers using 5G are only intermittently getting that enhanced experience as they move in and out of networked zones.

While East Asia, in particular China and South Korea, is leading the way, Europe is trailing behind on account of delayed spectrum auctions holding back further deployments across the continent.

How likely are you to get a 5G tariff in future? (% of adults)

Source: YouGovAmerica

However, consumers are still struggling to see the benefits of 5G. And even though CSPs are throwing huge amounts of money at deploying the new infrastructure, they are still struggling to differentiate their new network from its 4G predecessor, whose primary benefit – fixed-line quality browsing on the go – was more apparent on launch.

Unlike previous generations, 5G offers more than just a boost to mobile speeds, promising a whole raft of new, advanced capabilities – for everything from high-speed browsing and streaming to extended reality and low-latency online gaming.

Despite the growing hype around extended reality and the much-vaunted Internet of Things, these ultimately don’t have much bearing on the everyday lives of consumers – it’s the more “unremarkable” incremental improvements to everyday services that should be most enticing.

When looking for a mobile wireless provider, which of the following features is most important to you?

Source: VentureBeat

Results of a 2018 survey suggested that it’s reliability, not speed that consumers want from their networks most of all – 5G provides this, but do they know this? And are CSPs getting this message out there?

Sometimes, providers get it so wrong that action has to be taken; in March 2020, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had an advert for Three’s 5G service withdrawn, ruling that tweets and newspaper ads stating “If it’s not Three, it’s not real 5G” would unfairly lead prospective customers to think that other providers’ services would not provide significantly faster speeds, and that there was little value in obtaining 5G from them.

Similarly, O2’s advert from April 2020 touting itself as the “Uswitch Best Network Coverage Winner 2020,” was banned by the ASA after EE argued that the promotion was “misleading,” and that any claims about network coverage quality should be based on the results of technical measurement, not consumer surveys.

In the US, the National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs ruled that T-Mobile’s claim to having “the largest 5G network” be dropped, and its claims to being “the leader in 5G coverage and speed” were scaled back to reflect its more modest capabilities. This is on top of the ever-growing, bewildering series of names that T-Mobile has adopted for its 5G services, and sometimes, even its 4G LTE network.

This image problem hasn’t been helped by the tide of baseless conspiracy theories accusing 5G of spreading COVID or being responsible for the deaths of hundreds of birds in the Netherlands. An opinion piece published by the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health went so far as to call for the halting of 5G rollouts until its safety could be verified, leading the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) to release an extended rebuttal of the claims.

Concerns over the dangers of electromagnetic frequencies are hardly new, but have been met lately with increased fervour among true believers who, though fringe, have nonetheless succeeded in boosting their beliefs into the wider discourse; an EY survey found that 33% of UK households remain wary of 5G’s safety, despite government assurances.

Furthermore, protests have also hindered the rollout of this infrastructure – even leading two monks in France to attack a mast – and worse, risked the lives of those involved in deployment.

As we’ve previously discussed (naming it as one of our Telecom Trends for 2021), Digital Communication & Engagement Solutions (DCES), may be the answer, integrating communications and engagement technologies across the many silos of telco business departments, including billing, services, support, and sales & marketing.

With competition only intensifying, something as simple as poor communication can spell disaster for CSPs. They must improve their messaging as to the benefits of their new products and services, creating more proactive customer interactions and more valuable relationships.

When 4G/LTE began to pick up steam in the early 2010s, users began consuming much more data than they were on 3G – because services were priced and positioned appropriately. With 5G now in a similar position, CSPs can’t afford to delay investing in upgrading their communications strategies, as well as their core infrastructure.

CSPs must embrace a more value-based approach than simply charging by quantity, adjusting their traditional pricing models based on where customers see the real benefit.

With research suggesting that only 35% of telcos have a strategy for 5G in place, this idleness is creating a reputational vacuum that could become filled with anything. Consumers want consistent, quality coverage, but they need to know that this is what 5G will deliver them.

CSPs can’t just rely on faster speeds to sell 5G; they must commercialise and develop effective marketing and communications strategies to plug the knowledge gap, focusing on how 5G’s incremental benefits affect consumers today, versus the real game-changing use cases rolling out in the not-too-distant future.

By clearly elucidating what benefits customers can expect from these new services, and at what cost, telcos can boost customer loyalty and create more profitable relationships.

By Adam Hughes, Content Marketer at Cerillion Technologies. Article republished here courtesy of Cerillion Technologies.

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