Last month, Verizon finally switched on the first commercial 5G signal in Chicago and Minnesota and now promise another 30 American cities by the end of the year.
The launch beat out South Korea, the traditional network new generation leader, by a couple of weeks. It’s a moment that seems to have been so long in coming that you could be forgiven for being bored of the 5G buzzword before it’s even started.
But lighting the fuse on the technology firework is nothing compared to the behavioral Big Bang we’ll see when it explodes. It’s a bang that has the potential to fundamentally reshape our industry. In a fast-changing landscape for agencies, 5G stands as the biggest creative and strategic opportunity for us to forge new relationships with our clients and reshape our industry for the next generation.
What 5G is not is simply faster mobile downloads. The technology will offer so much more, rewriting the rules for interaction between brands and customers. We all share the goal for our industry to be innovative, progressive, built on quality work and high value for both consumers and our client brands, but the reality of our new digital world is that much of it has become infected with low-quality, obtrusive and irrelevant advertising. 5G has the potential to be the antidote, taking mobile advertising out of Google and Facebook box-ticking and into a new world.
A new kind of steroid
It’s not just about mobile devices. In addition to smartphones, 5G will integrate the internet of things, digital out of home, wearables, drones, manufacturing, retail experience spaces and more. 5G will be a lingua franca that will bring many currently disparate technologies together, a technology Esperanto for the next 10–20 years.
Last year there were around 1 billion IoT devices connected through the 5G cellular network globally. By 2023, it’s estimated that there will be around 3.5 billion. And that’s outside of the tens of billions more devices connected directly to the internet through Wi-Fi or wired connections. The combined number could be as much as 51 billion in total by 2023. This requires a totally new approach.
Yes, 5G is fast—very fast—promising up to 600Mbits/second. It’s the kind of speed that means you could download a traditional DVD in a handful of seconds, and so far, we’ve been fixated on this linear speed between our device and the wider network. But 5G won’t just be a steroid injection for our device; it will be more like taking a tab of LSD.
4G bandwidth brought with it our current video-dominated social media landscape. From micro-video sharing to binge-watching on the train, hand-held video is now at the heart of much of our brand communications.
But 5G isn’t just more video or higher-resolution video, it’s a different kind of video with new levels of engagement. Black Mirror’s choose your own adventure format in Bandersnatch on Netflix is just the start of what 5G could deliver: linear video can become direct response TV. We can also explore new levels of personalization. Imagine movie and TV product placement that changes in real-time on different devices for different people depending on location or how they’re feeling at that moment.
The prospects might be exciting, but they will also put pressure on our established systems and practices. Already stretched production budgets will need to go further, and the lines between content creation and media-buying will blur further. Responding to these challenges will require nothing less than new industry structures.
New data opportunities will drive industry change, too. 5G tech means not just a greater volume of data but lower latency in data response. The reaction time between human eye perception and brain response to is around 10 milliseconds. 5G’s data latency is around one millisecond, which means that real-time communication between people, connected machines and devices becomes feasible. This invisible latency combined with increased bandwidth makes VR and AR realistic possibilities.
5G will push brand experiences to grow out from phone screens into a space between the digital and the real world where product and communications merge to create a deeper, richer brand experience. The brands who embrace this will win.
Looking at glass communications
The change over the last two decades from the linear, finite broadcast communications of the old analog world to the conversational content of the current digital world may have been a challenge for our industry, but 5G promises a new world that will be like dropping through the looking glass. To make the most of the 5G opportunity, we’ll need to collaborate in new ways with each other, with brands and with customers. Get it right, and we can open up new worlds.
5G is finally here, and the noise has only just started. Now is not the time to switch off. Don’t get mad—get even better.