Nine out of ten people who own a mobile phone in the UK wouldn’t change their provider based on the benefits of 4G Internet speeds, according to new research commissioned by Virgin Media Business.

The study, carried out by internet-based market research firm YouGov, discovered that cost was a significant issue, with 61 percent of respondents citing it as the main reason why they wouldn’t switch to a network offering 4G connectivity.

Just under a quarter (22 per cent) said they were more concerned with the reliability of their existing data connection, while 34 percent noted that they simply wanted better network coverage in their local area.

Before the end of this month, seven companies will compete for the largest amount of mobile data bandwidth to ever be auctioned in Britain. The government is expected to raise £3.5 billion in the process as Ofcom sells off its ownership of the 4G spectrum.

EE, formerly known as Everything Everywhere, owns T-Mobile, Orange and the newly launched EE network, which already offers a 4G service using repurposed parts of the 2G spectrum. They will be one of the key bidders in the auction, alongisde other major UK networks such as Vodafone, 02 and Three.

In addition, HKT-PCCW, which used to be called the Hong Kong Telephone Company Limited and Cable & Wireless HKT, MLL Telecom and Niche Spectrum Ventures (a company owned by BT) will also be involved in the auction.

Virgin Mobile, however, hasn’t applied for the bid later this month. That’s because Virgin’s mobile arm is a virtual operator, meaning that their service is already carried on EE’s 2G and 3G networks. Potentially, if and when 4G connectivity is introduced to Orange and T-Mobile customers, Virgin Mobile will be able to do the same. Rumors of a wholesale agreement between Virgin and EE have been circulating for some time now, but no final decision has been made. Either way, it makes the research published today very timely indeed.

In a press release accompanying the research figures, Virgin Media Business said:

“With the £3.5 billion 4G auction taking place, eyes are fixed on who’s bidding for what, what it will mean for mobile networks and the boost it will bring to the economy.

So whilst 4G is essential for long term growth and prosperity, it’s not such a hot topic for consumers, who’s understanding of network technology and performance is limited as they favour looking at the price tags of contracts instead.”

They might just have a point though. The YouGov research that Virgin commissioned showed that 71 percent of respondents had no idea what data speeds they were currently receiving on their smartphone, or even what they should be receiving on average. Likewise, almost three quarters said they didn’t know what improvements to expect if they switched over to a network offering 4G.

Even more notable was the discovery that 24 percent of people have no idea if they receive an adequate 3G connection, or what speeds they should be expecting if they’re on a contract with 3G connectivity. For those that were aware of their 3G coverage, one in ten said it was rarely reaching the appropriate Internet speeds, if at all.

George Wareing, director of mobile and broadcast at Virgin Media Business, said: “It’s not just a question of balancing the investment that’s made in the underlying infrastructure [of 4G] that’s key to this, it’s also important that we take the consumer with us on this journey.

“Of course price will always be a factor with consumer purchasing decisions. However, by taking a holistic approach and giving customers a better understanding of their services, operators will be able to differentiate themselves not just on price but on a better all-round service, setting themselves up perfectly to roll-out future technology such as 4G.”

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