Though 5G has dominated tech talk for a while now, the last few years have seen a marked uptick in research, development, viability testing and limited-scale deployments. According to Deloitte, 2019 will be the year that wide-area wireless 5G networks will arrive in scale.
Some developments are unfolding right now. In April, South Korea’s largest carrier, SK Telecom, unveiled what was at the time touted as the world’s first commercial 5G network. In the US, Verizon has rolled out 5G services in cities such as Chicago and Minneapolis, while competitor Sprint has just launched 5G networks and phones in Atlanta, Dallas and Houston, with Los Angeles and New York on the horizon.
In the UK, 5G pilot programmes are currently underway in London, Belfast and Edinburgh, with Vodafone planning to launch a limited 5G network in July in seven cities. Japanese carriers hope to have 5G services ready for distribution in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and 5G trials in India are expected to kick off in September. China Mobile is aiming to launch 5G services across 50 cities in China by the end of this year.
In the GCC region, Etisalat, Du, STC and Zain are leading the way in deploying and expanding the reach of 5G infrastructure, in line with national economic transformation initiatives, with UAE carriers being the first in the Middle East to introduce 5G-enabled devices. According to a report by the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), 5G will account for 16% of total connections in the Middle East and North Africa by 2025. The same report also states that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain will be among the first countries in the world to launch commercial 5G networks.
With unprecedented speeds and exponentially greater bandwidth, the advent of 5G technology promises to usher in a new era of information-sharing. From a consumer perspective, 5G has enormous potential, in a way that 4G never did. Coupled with the Internet of Things (IoT), consumers will soon be able to immerse themselves in a richer media and entertainment ecosystem than ever before.
So, what does this mean for brands and visual narratives? Today, video and music streaming rule, and virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are steadily gaining traction. Most people can relate to the agony of content buffering, even if it only takes a couple of seconds. 5G will pre-empt this. It represents the next paradigm shift in connectivity and sharing, which opens the door to endless opportunities for brand marketing.
As video gains in popularity, fueling audience engagement and word of mouth, brands will be able to create and market richer forms of visual content to tap into their target demographics.
Both long-form and short-form video content will become more prevalent, and 4K-quality videos more commonplace, easily viewable by an on-the-go, mobile-centric audience. Streaming will be virtually instantaneous and when you throw VR into the mix, video content will assume a more immersive and interactive nature.
5G will provide the high-speed internet connections needed to facilitate the real-time rendering of videos and virtualization of environments, undercutting the need for cumbersome VR hardware, pushing processing power to the Cloud, and allowing more portable form factors to come to the fore. The physical sensation of nausea—a consequence of high-latency—will also be eliminated for users.
Just imagine the sheer reach of brand and awareness campaigns when these visual experiences no longer need to be tethered to a stationary mall activation booth, but can instead be accessed by anyone with a 5G-enabled device.
According to Gartner, 46% of retailers are planning to deploy either AR or VR solutions for their customers by 2020. With the rapid, almost unencumbered exchange of data and information in real-time, coupled with the capacity to support far more connections within the same geographic area, 5G will accelerate the uptake of VR and AR consumption among the masses, giving retailers and brands more of an impetus to adopt VR and AR-centric functionalities, such as the simulation of goods and services. In the future, with 5G infrastructure in place, AR overlays to enhance the customer experience could become far more mainstream than we think.
Data collection and analysis is also set to undergo a transformation. How? We know that data is the bread and butter of any marketer. When fully actualized, 5G technology will form a lynchpin of IoT, wherein multiple devices will interact with each other, via a highly interconnected, city-wide ecosystem. According to a recent Gartner study, organizations expect 5G networks to be mainly used for IoT communications and video.
With a plethora of devices and 5G-enabled smartphones operating simultaneously and talking to one another, the resulting deluge of invaluable data will be a blessing for brand marketers, enabling them to mine insights, create compelling content and target their audiences in exactly the right place.
A commonly perpetuated misconception these days is that 5G is simply an upgrade from 4G. This is not true. Being the next leap forward in mobile connectivity, brand marketers will be able to leverage a vibrant mix of content and storytelling techniques, backed up by an extensive and growing repository of data.
Though we are yet to see fully-fledged 5G networks and compatible smartphones materialize on a large scale, the future looks exciting for brands and creative professionals alike. As Seth Godin once said, “People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic”. Who knows, perhaps the future will see viral 4K and VR-based campaigns dominate the prestigious Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in greater numbers—and we will have 5G to thank for that.