For the most ardent of tech fans, navigating the landscape of 4G – and how it’s defined with HSPA+, WiMAX and LTE – can be a daunting task. For the uninitiated consumer, the differences can be downright unfathomable. This notion is perhaps best exemplified by an SNL skit from early last month, where an overwhelming Verizon Wireless employee attempts to explain what means what, instead confusing the customer even more in the process. According to NPD Group, though, more consumers are hopping on the 4G train, but only a quarter strongly associating LTE with 4G.
During Q4 2011, 35 percent of smartphone owners went with the fourth-generation wireless technology, up from six percent a year earlier. The most popular 4G technology, according to NPD, was HSPA+, at 22 percent of smartphone sales. This, as one would imagine, was due in large part to the healthy adoption of the iPhone 4S on AT&T.
Verizon’s LTE, which has been growing at a rapid rate over the past twelve months, was the second most popular technology at 7 percent, up from zero the year before. The best selling LTE smartphone on Verizon, according to NPD, was the HTC Thunderbolt.
Lastly Sprint, who launched its WiMAX alternative in 2009, accounted for six percent of the market during Q4, actually falling down from 10 percent in Q3. The carrier is currently on target to roll out true LTE during the summer. Again HTC grabbed the “Best Selling” title, with its HTC EVO the most popular WiMAX device.
“HSPA+, which has combined high throughput with practical power efficiency, has been a compelling evolutionary 4G upgrade option for carriers upgrading GSM networks,” said Ross Rubin, executive director, Connected Intelligence for The NPD Group. “With all major U.S. carriers committing to LTE as their 4G future, it is clearly the cellular network technology that will determine the baseline for the next generation of advanced smartphones.”