By Lisa Johnston
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Westlake Village, Calif. — 4G LTE networks deliver the best overall wireless-service quality in the U.S., and Verizon Wireless, the carrier offering the broadest LTE coverage, is tops in wireless-service quality in five of six regions in the U.S., J.D. Power and Associates found in a consumer survey.
LTE carrier U.S. Cellular came out on top in service quality in the North Central region, where Verizon placed second.
Satisfaction and loyalty levels among LTE users is much higher than they are among people using devices with other 3G/4G technologies such as WiMAX or HSPA+, J.D. Power said.
The company based its results on a survey of consumers’ experiences with calling, messaging and data connections in networks operated by the four national carriers in all six regions and, in the North Central region, in the networks operated by the four national carriers and by regional carrier U.S. Cellular. J.D. Power surveyed 27,048 wireless users between July and December 2012.
J.D. Power ranked the carriers in 10 areas affecting the customer experience: dropped calls, calls not connected, audio issues, failed/late voicemails, lost calls, text-transmission failures, late text message notifications, web connection errors, slow downloads, and email connection errors. Performance was measured as problems per 100 (PP100) network connections, with a lower score reflecting fewer problems and better network performance. Carrier performance was examined in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, North Central, Southwest and West.
In the survey, J.D. Power found a correlation between monthly wireless spending and network quality. The “amount of monthly wireless spending is considerably higher among customers who experience fewer problems with slower connection speeds,” the company said. “Customers experiencing more consistent network speeds are more likely to be brand advocates,” the company added.
In its survey, J.D. Power found that AT&T placed second in five of six regions, and in the North Central region, third behind U.S. Cellular and Verizon. T-Mobile ranked third in three regions (Northeast, Mid Atlantic and Southeast), last out of four carriers in the Southwest and West, and fourth out of five in the North Central region.
Sprint was last in four regions (Northeast, Mid Atlantic, North Central, and Southeast) and third out of four in the Southwest and West.
In each of the six regions, Verizon posted above-average service quality based on overall performance by the networks included in the survey. AT&T posted above-average quality in one region, the Southwest, and average quality in the Mid-Atlantic. AT&T posted below-average quality in all other markets. (See chart for details.)
For their part, Sprint and T-Mobile performed below average in all six markets.
Overall, satisfaction is “significantly higher” among LTE smartphone users than among people using other 3G or 4G network technologies, with LTE users reporting an average satisfaction of 7.3 on a 10-point scale, the company said. That compares with a satisfaction level of 7 by other wireless users.
On average, 4G LTE users experience significantly fewer issues with data than 3G customers (16 problems per 100 compared with 19 problems per 100), J.D. Power said. That translates into higher brand loyalty, with only 12 percent of LTE smartphone customers saying they are likely to switch carriers within the next year compared with 15 percent among people using 3G.
The company also found that smartphone customers who experience slow data speeds at a frequency of one and 10 times out of 100 data connections spend an average of $11 more per month for service, or $140, compared with those who experience between 11 to 20 problem data connections. The latter spend $129 per month.
Customers experiencing more consistent network speeds are more likely to be brand advocates, the company added. Thirty-one percent of smartphone customers who experience between one PP100 and 10 PP100 “definitely will” recommend their carrier to others, but only 24 percent who experience between 11 PP100 and 20 PP100 will do so.
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