Beware of Deceptive Surveys

I was sent a copy of the results of a survey about 5G from Sykes, a market research company. In glancing through the survey, it looked like they were asking great questions. For example, the survey showed that over 85% of people have heard of 5G, meaning the cellular companies have done a good job creating brand awareness with the 5G name.

The second question is another good one. It asked if people currently pay for 5G service. 20% said they do. I think I know as much about 5G as anybody and I don’t know how to answer that question. I know my AT&T phone has been telling me for a year that I have 5G, when I know I only have 4G. Am I paying for 5G? I know I’m not paying anything extra for it.

The survey asked what people think of when they hear ‘5G’. 50% said they thought this means a faster and more reliable cellular data connection. A surprising 38% said they thought 5G means a faster and more reliable connection for anything that requires the Internet. That answer surprised me, but most 5G advertising is so generic I guess it’s not hard to see how people might think that 5G is a landline alternative.

The survey asked about the most significant benefits of 5G. 57% said faster speeds. 11% said lower latency, which is a bit surprising since I would bet you can’t find anybody who can point to an example of poor cell phone latency. 19% said the most important aspect is the capacity to use multiple devices – another allusion to 5G being a landline replacement.

An interesting question asked about people’s concerns about 5G. 36% said they were worried about exposure to 5G frequency, the increased presence of 5G transmitters in the environment, and the environmental effects if 5G infrastructure. Interestingly, 17% said they were concerned about the complexity and cost of the 5G infrastructure. I have a really hard time thinking that many people are really worried about what 5G is costing AT&T and Verizon – but that’s the answer they picked out of a list of choices.

Unfortunately, at this point the survey went sideways. Question 6 was: A 5G connection is more reliable and reportedly 100 times faster than 4G. If those claims are true, what impact do you expect 5G to have on your daily life in the next 2 years? This is a classic push poll question. A push poll question plants an untrue fact into a survey and then asks people to react to it. There is nobody in the industry who thinks that 5G is going be this fast for most people within 2 years, and perhaps not even within 10 years, or possibly ever. The cellular companies might never invest in the fiber needed to put a small cell site every 1,000 feet in city neighborhoods, suburbs, or anywhere rural.

A more honest question would have been: The cellular carriers have introduced millimeter wave spectrum in small sections of big city downtowns. This technology is as much as 50 times faster than 4G cellular. It requires a user to buy an expensive new phone and it only works outdoors within perhaps 500 feet of a cell site. Do you think you would pay extra for a phone and a monthly fee to use this technology if it comes to the neighborhood where you live or work?

The problem with a push poll question is that it pollutes every question that follows. People taking the survey were influenced with the idea of 100 times faster speeds within 2 years when they answer any additional questions about 5G. For example, the tenth question in the survey asks: Would you consider switching your Internet provider and/or mobile phone carrier this year in order to have 5G? 23% said yes and 46% said maybe. But they are answering this question with the influence of question 6 about 5G being 100 times faster. I would change my Internet provider for 100 times faster speed – but I know that is not an option that is coming from 5G. I don’t expect any 5G connection in my neighborhood to match my cable modem speed within the next decade – and even when they do, they’ll match it outdoors and not through the walls of my home. This is another ludicrous question.

They survey snuck in another push poll question when it asked: If you were guaranteed to never experience any speed or connectivity issues again with your home connected devices, would you pay more for 5G service this year? The killer wording in this question is the ‘this year’ part. I can’t wait for a cellular company rep to try to sell me on the pitch that cellular coverage this year can handle my computers, smart TV, tablets, and the other twenty connected devices I have in my home.

My experience of cellular coverage in the last month is that the networks are having a hard time keeping up with the demands created by the COVID-19 crisis. I’ve been on numerous conference calls when one of the parties had to drop and reinitialize the call due to a poor-quality cellular connection. We are a still a number of years away from seeing the technology improvements that will make 5G better than 4G. The cellular carriers are in no position to meet any of the expectations implied by this survey.

This survey results don’t disclose who sponsored the survey. Market research firms don’t generally conduct surveys without a paying client. This likely came out of an overzealous marketing department at one of the cellular carriers, or perhaps one of the 5G vendor. Whoever wrote this survey knew the answers would be bogus, but they obviously have an agenda to use the results to influence the general public, or perhaps politicians with the result. I’d hate to think that anybody thinks this poll represents real market research.

One thought on “Beware of Deceptive Surveys

  1. I think the survey is mostly push (not just the latter part) and oriented towards getting users used to the idea that 5g is a substitute for home Internet for both gaming and entertainment.

    Using 5g “last 100 feet” from pole to home as a way to shift users away from cable / DSL represents one of the more viable business cases for 5g. Even though, fiber connection to the home would work just as well (better) for all but the pure mobile cases.

    One of the actual advantages 5g has for users is the “one bill” thing. The other, for telcos, is the ability to drop ship connection gear and avoid union install labor.

    Mostly, though, as I’ve said many times, 5g seems more about what it gets telcos than what it offers consumers.

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