5G Isn’t a Reality Yet, but It’s Looking Promising

Opinion: Particularly following CES

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Just because everyone’s thinking about 5G doesn’t mean everyone understands what it is or what it might imply for their industries and brands. You might have a better idea if you’d attended CES where it was a hot topic. For those of you not lucky enough to be one of the 180,000 attendees, here’s a quick primer, along with a look at its marketing potential.

It’s indisputable that this complex technology promises unbelievable data speeds for mobile users, enterprises, IoT at scale, immersive media, video and other high bandwidth applications. But it’s also confusing that the major phone carriers that stand to benefit seem more fixated with one-upping each other—or worse, such as tearing each other’s efforts down. One carrier made the complex even more confusing in its race to grab share of mind, just as the first 5G trials are rolling out. AT&T earned some scorn from competitors at CES by introducing 5Ge, a standard that improves incrementally on its 4G phone but uses current technologies and not the mythical 5G.

It leaves marketers scrambling to conduct additional research before they can introduce any anticipated user benefits and creative ideation into their strategies.

But the facts of 5G, however complex, are equally promising. It leaves marketers scrambling to conduct additional research before they can introduce any anticipated user benefits and creative ideation into their strategies. Many technologies, commercial strategies, local policies and economies are involved in 5G.

The industry anticipates overlapping mobile standards for years to come worldwide, while 4G LTE isn’t expected to peak for another decade. Mobile industry experts believe we’ll first experience 5G in owned and controlled spaces—stadiums, offices, hospitals—using fixed wireless, as opposed to wired, cable or fiber systems.

Mobile phone users will have to wait quite a while for the widespread installation of base stations, given the limited range of the high frequency wave bands 5G will need to deliver its promised high speeds that will encourage them to replace their handsets. In the meantime, consumers can expect to deal with uneven and partial coverage for years to come.

Still, Qualcomm has a 5G mobile phone chip set reference design ready, and it announced that 30 phones will be 5G-ready in 2019 (Apple’s iPhone probably not among them). Carriers and some phone manufacturers, including Samsung, that make hardware components for the 5G ecosystem have massive incentives to introduce useful, desirable new technology since today’s mobile phone business has reached saturation in the biggest economic regions.

One long-term advantage 5G will usher in is fixed 5G wireless base stations should enable and advance “edge computing,” in which data and compute power can be brought closer to a user, reducing latency and speed variability for applications like voice recognition, AI, game dynamic rendering, VR/AR content and other bandwidth-heavy uses. All of this may soon find its way to market—at least in high-density urban locations where it would be put to most practical use.

This goes for retail locations as well. Stores and shopping centers with high bandwidth hyper-connectivity to corporate data, high-definition live video and interactive mixed-reality immersive displays could become more attractive destinations.

With these strong incentives in the ecosystems, we may see some opportunities for creative messaging and brand experiences around 5G in the coming year. And if you’ve already experimented with some of the creative technology that can produce these experiences, you can imagine how you might bring them anywhere a 5G signal can reach.

That’s what I call pretty huge potential.