My bathroom has been under renovation all week, which meant that I had to take my home office on the road for a few days. One afternoon I was sitting at a local coffee shop, and the table next to me was having a pretty elaborate conversation about mobile phones. Everyone at the table was of senior citizen status, and one man at the table was attempting to educate the group on smartphones and what they all needed to buy.

iPhone 4His big suggestion? Wait till next month when the 5G iPhone comes out.

So, through some miracle I managed to keep my mouth shut and not intervene in what was a pretty uneducated conversation – Turns out; however, the guy lecturing the group isn’t the only one who thinks he’s toting around a 4G iPhone already.

According to a recent Retrevo study an astounding 34% of iPhone owners think the iPhone 4 is actually a 4G device. It’s not.

My first thought was the “4” at the end of the phone’s name was throwing people off. If you’re not a phone nerd I can see someone thinking that the 4 at the end of the phone’s name stands for 4G. The last iPhone after all had “3G” in the name and had 3G data. Make’s sense. The 4 at the end of the name is actually because the iPhone 4 is the 4th iPhone.

Then things get weirder

According to the study not only are 34% of iPhone customers confused about their data speed, everyone else is too. 24% of BlackBerry owners think they’re carrying around a 4G device, and RIM doesn’t have one on the market. Where’d they get that idea? They don’t even have the convenient 4/4G verbiage to fall back on.

29% of Android customers also think they have 4G devices. At least there’s a chance those people actually have them – but there’s likely a few fails in there as well.

While my friend at the table next door was pretty off-base about the iPhone 5 being a “5G” device, he at least knew that 5G would mean faster data. He attempted to explain to his friends how 4G was better than the 3G they were toting on their phones (and he was too and didn’t know it) and how magical 5G was going to be when it became available. So close.

So, where are all these misconceptions coming from?

All the ads for 4G data coupled with the lack of education about what it is has created quite a bit of confusion in the general wireless market. If people don’t know what data is on their phone currently, then they’re also likely to not know there’s potentially something better or different out there to try. Most people in the study (61%) said that the new iPhone having 4G wouldn’t be a deciding factor for them when it came time to buy, and 30% said that they thought 4G data plans were too expensive for them to want one.

The Federal government is currently looking into legislation that would require carriers to spell out what the difference is between different qualities of service, and the costs associated with them. The “Next Generation Wireless Disclosure Act” would put the responsibility of education with carriers to make sure people understood what they were buying, and why it has certain fees associated with it.

What do you think is a good method for educating the masses on wireless data? Are there people in your life who don’t know the difference between 3G and 4G?