A fifth of UK mobile customers know nothing about 5G

2 September 2021   By Dr Lucy Brown, Editor

New global research by YouGov finds 21% of UK respondents say they have not heard anything about 5G technology.

Of those who have heard something about 5G, they are more likely to know about it thanks to the news rather than adverts from mobile providers.

Mobile customers in Great Britain are also less likely than their global counterparts to currently own a 5G device or say they'll have 5G in the future.

31% of people who say they're unlikely to upgrade cite the fact they're not interested in 5G technology.

5g tower

5G research

YouGov's International Telco Report 2021 examined how mobile customers view 5G services across several major countries including Great Britain, the USA and China.

Lack of knowledge in Great Britain was high, with 21% of respondents saying they hadn't heard anything about 5G technology.

Customers who had heard about it found out thanks to:

  • The news (28%)
  • Ads from mobile network providers (12%)
  • Social media (12%)
  • Word of mouth (7%)

YouGov point to a muted advertising push on the part of network operators, highlighting the decision in July 2020 to ban Huawei equipment from the network that will cost an estimated £2 billion by the time the process is complete in 2027.

The study also contrasts the networks' response to the arrival of 5G with the uptake of 4G services several years ago.

They say EE boasted 5.7 million 4G customers two years after its launch, whereas the figure for their 5G network in May 2021 was around 1 million.

Customer intentions

In comparison to global attitudes, mobile customers in Great Britain are less likely to say they're interested in 5G technology or are planning to upgrade.

YouGov found 60% of customers were not intending to upgrade their mobile phone to a 5G-ready model in the next 12 months. Of those:

  • 31% are not interested in 5G technology
  • 18% believe the cost of a new mobile with 5G capability is too high
  • 8% have recently purchased a new non-5G phone
  • 8% already have 5G capability on their handset
  • 6% have concerns about their data privacy

Only 39% of respondents from Great Britain believe 5G will change the internet compared to 59% of global respondents.

Future of 5G

The findings in this YouGov study echo those in survey released by tech manufacturer Ericsson in May 2021.

It's true the insights are different, however, with Ericsson estimating 97% of UK mobile customers either don't have a 5G-ready device or have one but don't have a 5G tariff to match. YouGov's findings suggest 16% of respondents in Great Britain are 5G-enabled.

Although there were five months between the data collection for the Ericsson survey and YouGov's fieldwork, 5G is unlikely to have made such strides in the UK in such a short time, especially when YouGov suggest that EE only had 1 million 5G customers in May 2021.

Networks are pressing ahead with their 5G rollouts, with EE aiming to expand 5G services across 90% of the UK by 2028 and Three confirming they have reached 300 locations with 5G coverage as of last month.

So, networks are continuing to roll out 5G technology but, YouGov's research suggests, they are still not effectively communicating the benefits of 5G to their customers and encouraging them to upgrade.

For customers who know about 5G mobile broadband, it can be difficult to comprehend that a fifth of mobile customers in the UK haven't heard of 5G.

However, effectively explaining to customers why 5G technology is better and why they might want to spend more money on a 5G handset when 4G handsets are cheaper is difficult.

It doesn't help that regulator Ofcom has yet to provide regular updates on take-up and usage, so many customers only hear about 5G in the negative sense when the industry is forced to come out against 5G misinformation and whether 5G is safe.

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