The 5G future is here… almost

February 2021

Welcome to the year of 5G. The new, superfast generation of wireless technology, potentially 100 times faster than its predecessor 4G, is finally making its way to a smartphone near you. For brands, this is a huge opportunity, because for marketing 5G has the potential to create digital customer experiences that, until now, they could only dream of.

But don’t get too excited just yet. 5G isn’t expected to reach its true potential for a couple of years. One reason is the amount of time it takes for wireless carriers to roll out and install the necessary network equipment. Another is that the take-up of 5G devices has some catching up to do, with consumers tightening their belts during the pandemic and forgoing smartphone upgrades.

“5G technology is expected to add $13 trillion to the global economy by 2030”

Coverage and device ownership is growing, however. According to data from PwC, the number of people in the US who now have access to 5G networks has grown to 75% from around 60% in July 2020, and those who own 5G devices increased from 2% to 8%. PwC reckons that coverage will grow to 80% and device penetration to 12% by July this year. And the company estimates that the technology will add $13 trillion to the global economy by 2030.

Upping the video game

So what can marketers expect in this brave new 5G world? With speeds realistically around 10 to 20 times faster than 4G, you can download a full-length HD film in less than a minute (in laboratory conditions, it’s seconds). With 4G it takes six minutes.

“5G allows multiple devices to be connected – everything from smartphones to self-driving cars and data centres”

The reduced latency (the time between telling a device to do something and the device actually doing it) also means 5G is much more responsive.  And it allows multiple devices to be connected – potentially, everything from smartphones to self-driving cars and data centres.

So no more annoying delays while you’re playing games, and fast, glitch-free videos. This opens up the possibility for branded video content, and interaction times with ads will be dramatically faster. Digital video advertising could hit the big-time this year – according to eMarketer, the video ad spend in the US alone is set to shoot up to $22.18bn.

The (virtual) reality of it

The combination of eye-watering speeds and lower latency means exceptional, and more immersive, user experience. Virtual reality, where the viewer is offered a whole new world, and augmented reality, where graphics are overlaid onto whatever you’re looking at, are currently something of a niche. The arrival of 5G in marketing will finally push these technologies, both of which rely on high bandwidth and responsive networks, into the mainstream.

“The arrival of 5G will finally push these technologies, both of which rely on high bandwidth and responsive networks, into the mainstream”

We’ll see more brands plugging into the power of AR and VR, with customer experiences that bridge the gap between real-life and digital. Think virtual test drives when you’re in the market for a new car, and virtual photo shoot studios when you’re after a new T-shirt.   

Even more personalized experience

Because 5G offers a better digital experience, more people will begin to want smartphones and the Internet of Things (IoT) in their lives. For marketers, the beauty of IoT devices, such as smart speakers and home appliances, is the depth of personalisation that’s possible.

“The beauty of IoT devices is the depth of personalisation that’s possible”

Interconnected devices are a real data goldmine for advertisers. They allow them to create ads to that are hyper-personalized and contextual. And 5G allows for much more accurate location pinpointing. While 4G can only tell a user’s location within around 1.5km, 5G is accurate to within less than a metre.

So everything we can do now, 5G does better and faster. But the most exciting thing about this technology is the potential for completely new applications, new creative ideas, and even new business models. The most interesting use of 5G in digital marketing probably hasn’t been thought of yet, and our imaginations really are the limit.

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