With Faster Speeds and Connections, Brands Are Planning for 5G-Fueled Marketing

Widespread rollout should increase connection speeds up to 10 times

Video and connected cars are about to get juiced up. Getty Images
Headshot of Lauren Johnson

Kevin Crull, chief strategy officer at Sprint, envisions a world in the coming years where his phone is able to automatically book an Uber ride from an airport based on a calendar reminder that he created about an upcoming flight. The calendar reminder feeds real-time travel stats to his device and then recommends a meal for his Uber driver to pick up on the way based on what items he has previously ordered through Uber Eats.

“I can see in the future where it brings in information from other devices and third-party services to get much more predictive and successful in how we’re targeting people,” he said.

Pending antitrust regulations, Sprint will merge with T-Mobile to pool resources and create a powerful 5G network in the U.S. to rival both Verizon and AT&T’s networks.

Crull’s futuristic scenario isn’t just wishful (or hungry) thinking. It’s the product of 5G technology that constantly pings data back and forth between smartphones and connected devices, making it possible for devices to essentially predict what actions a consumer takes. At its core, the widespread rollout of 5G promises to increase connection speeds by up to 10 times while cutting latency by a factor of five, he said. Videos—and commercials—powered with 5G will stream faster and look crisper on smartphones. And with more data flowing quickly between networks and devices, the so-called Internet of Things will take a bit more shape for marketers who have long strived to ping a user’s smartphone with a relevant message as he passes a billboard or store.

“It’s thinking about everything being connected,” said Craig Elimeliah, managing director of creative technology for North America at VML. “The phone becomes the remote to all the things around us that have this capability of interconnectivity.”

It’s no surprise then that all of the major telecommunications companies are racing to pour billions into building the tech pipes and infrastructure—like souped-up antennas capable of carrying boatloads of data in milliseconds—that will power ultra-fast connection speeds. Over the next two years, the mobile industry is expected to invest $500 billion globally to prepare for 5G, according to data from General System for the GSMA, Mobile World Congress’ governing body. All of this investment is poised to create 3 million technical jobs and contribute $500 billion to the U.S. GDP in seven years, per figures from Accenture.

“The faster connections [and] better-quality data connections will drive subscriptions to [carriers’] service, and that will drive your stock price, [which] is of the upmost importance to these companies,” said Jeff Malmad, managing director of Mindshare North America’s Life+.

By the first half of next year, Sprint plans to have 5G up and running “in many markets,” while AT&T plans to equip 12 markets including Atlanta and Dallas with mobile 5G this year. T-Mobile says that it’s on track to have 5G rolled out to 30 cities such as New York and Los Angeles in 2018, and Verizon is also enabling five markets including Sacramento, Calif., with the technology.

For advertisers, 5G opens up new video opportunities with formats like virtual reality and interactive clips that require hefty amounts of data to view today. Sprint’s Crull said he also expects for advertisers to play with dynamic creative and video lengths that are customized to users depending on how much content they typically watch on their phone.

And as Apple, Facebook and Snapchat invest in augmented reality, expect for 5G to open up more detailed AR experiences for marketers to experiment with, said Malmad.

“In a world of 5G, you aren’t going to be constrained by [bandwidth]—you can showcase whatever you like and have a rich, deep experience, so I do believe that augmented reality will benefit greatly from 5G,” he said.

Malmad said that 5G will also make it easier for marketers to target ads to connected cars, particularly once autonomous driving becomes more mainstream. For example, self-driving cars are expected to free up people’s time and attention so that they can watch TV or stream programs, meaning that automakers may build screens into seats.

“With 5G, you’ll start to see the fluid transformation of data back and forth,” he said. “People will be streaming more video and within that world, the ability for us to effectively communicate some kind of brand message while you’re on your way to the store becomes more prevalent—you’ll start to see more offer-based messages from a video standpoint evolve.”

That scenario also applies to location-based marketing for outdoor billboards and screens, added VML’s Elimeliah.

“We all have been working on location-based marketing, triggers and beacons [but] without the speed and bandwidth that 5G gives us, all of that was kind of janky,” he said. “With 5G—or at least all the hype behind it—you’ll actually start seeing some of this in the real world.”

This story first appeared in the May 14, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.
@laurenjohnson lauren.johnson@adweek.com Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.