5G: The Underlying Layer of Our New Connected World

An exploration of how 5G will create a new level of connection and what that means for brands and marketers.

5G will begin to blur the lines between culture and the technologies that connect us. Just like the Internet and the current rise of machine learning, 5G will be transformative. The increased speeds will allow for accelerated connection, bring expansive scale to current-day bandwidths, and serve as a stimulant for innovation across industries. The real question is how will this impact the world of marketing as we know it? And perhaps even more relevant, what do we need to know as marketers to get ahead?


Marketing in the 5G Era: An Overview

There’s a broad spectrum of how today’s technologies will evolve and enable new, exciting ways we connect with consumers. The next generation of speed and bandwidth will allow for massively connected ecosystems. These ecosystems will start with faster and more connected mobile data streams that will allow for all-new brand experiences that will go beyond the smartphone. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will finally take off when it comes to gaming, sports, and in-home entertainment.

The Internet of Things (IoT) will begin to scale and give us a new sense of the customer in real time. Connected cars and transportation will open up a new interactive experience for drivers, passengers, and brands to reach them on the go. Live experiences like festivals, sporting events, and conferences will now have a new connected layer to enhance the physical world around us. Lastly, future innovations will be an accelerant for new products and services fueled by the vast amounts of data 5G will help create.

These advancements will allow marketers to gain new insight and access into the everyday lives of the consumer. Hyper-personalization and predictive messaging will become a reality with artificial intelligence (AI) supported campaigns and creative executions.

To get us there, we’ll need to devote time to understand the right balance of where and how far we take these efforts. Cross-functional teams of strategists, data analysts, developers, and creatives will need to work closely to rigorously test, learn, and carefully guide brands into this next era of connection.

From a creative aspect, the new “big ideas” will start to shift from linear storytelling and larger narratives to something that can be translated into numerous consumer touchpoints along the journey. The “big idea” itself may only serve as a guiding light as we begin to realize the distinctive messages that resonate with different consumers in different environments. The diverse formats of where the ideas will come to life will need to be malleable and flexible. Those who leverage data and machine learning as a new creative tool will begin to have an advantage. To understand these shifts, I’ll cover some of the most prominent areas that will evolve in the 5G era.

Understanding 5G Technology

Let’s discuss what makes 5G different. You may have heard about the promise of the speeds 5G will bring, perhaps from telecommunications companies like Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint, or you may have seen headlines hyping the future it will bring. The good news is the “next generation” will indeed be extremely fast compared to what we know today. But the truth is, 5G isn’t just the “next generation” in speed; it will lay a new foundation for connection that will accelerate how we think about accessing information not just as consumers, but it will also augment how we do business.

It’s hard to imagine 10 times and even up to 100 times the speed of 4G LTE. In reality, it’s not exactly known how fast 5G speeds will be. Much of the technology needed to get us there is still under development. Over the next few years, there will be a tremendous amount of infrastructure being built, enormous upgrades to current systems, and, perhaps most importantly, there are billions of dollars in investment globally before we can all experience the benefits. In 2019, we will only begin to see a glimpse of these capabilities. The full rollout will take years, and it is assumed we won’t see the full capabilities until 2025.

The new technology itself has three main attributes that make it a big step in connection: lightning-fast speeds, low latency (minimal delays in data transmission), and greater capacities for connecting large quantities of smart devices or sensors on one network. These attributes will impact well beyond the speed of how fast a high-resolution video will load on your mobile device.

Consumers will certainly see the benefits when it comes to speed, but in all actuality commercial businesses and whole industries will be affected. These faster wireless capabilities and massive increases in capacity will fuel mobile data usage, the Internet of Things, connected manufacturing, and even smart communities. Additionally, the technology will specifically drive innovations in health care, retail, and automotive.


Next-Gen Mobile Marketing

The telecom industry is devoted to upgrading networks and developing 5G-enabled devices in the very near future, and this is where the capabilities and benefits will begin. For marketers, mobile is where we’ll start.

With 10 to 100 times the speeds, we will no longer have to worry about slow loading times for our branded websites, landing pages, and app downloads. Accessing heavy front-end and back-end web experiences will now be a breeze. But that’s not where your focus should be. Increased speeds and capacity should lead us to build better branded experiences. Consumer expectations will be at an all-time high, and we will need to create and develop experiences with personalization, recommendation, and prediction in mind. Faster, more dynamic, more real-time messaging will begin to take place, but like any other hype-cycle of new technology, 5G is still in the early stages and most likely many of these customer expectations will not be met early on.

These new speeds will drive an increase in mobile data usage and will span across a variety of existing and emerging types of content.

  • Mobile video (ultra-HD streaming, live broadcast)
  • Gaming/esports (playing and streaming on the go)
  • AR: a new layer to augment and enrich our physical world
  • VR: 5G will ultimately allow for more immersive VR experiences, but the hardware will need to catch up to support them. In the meantime, lighter mobile interactive and 3D video experiences will become easily viewable before the day of undistinguishable VR simulations.

There will also be an increase in other connected devices, sensors, and beacons in the world around us. This is where increases in capacity are at play. The network will be able to support 10 to 100 times the number of connected devices compared to current 4G LTE networks. That brings us to the topic of the Internet of Things.


5G and the “Internet of Things”

We’ll begin to get a glimpse into what the so-called post-smartphone era may look like, as IoT devices begin to scale. That scale will happen quickly. It is said that by 2020, there will be more devices than people on earth. This constant connection and real-time data stream powering our day-to-day lives will also benefit marketers. As these devices get up and running, they’ll be collecting billions of data points. This data can be used to learn more about consumers to predict patterns and drive personalization. This will also create new forms of automation like gauging supply and demand, and realizing gaps in service or customer experience.

The push notification will now be connected to the physical world. Our homes will get smarter with connected appliances, security, and entertainment. Watering the garden could be a thing of the past with new connected systems not only gauging the soil’s current state, but also feeding in weather data to determine the optimal amount of water needed.

The idea of a smart home will become very realistic, but these devices will go beyond the in-home experience with Amazon Alexa or Google Home that we know today. IoT will start to create new capabilities. Our current definition and what we think of as a “digital assistant” will shift and evolve. AI-enabled devices will not simply respond to the questions and requests we have, but will move into predicting our very needs and wants. There’s a real possibility that very soon we’ll have Alexa or Google Assistant built in to several of our home appliances, such as ovens, door locks, garage doors, and even ceiling fans.  Suggestions, recommendations, and new offerings from what the machine is learning will emerge and will become more accurate over time. It will go far beyond just “listening,” but become more of a true assistant connecting across home, mobile, and your car. They’ll be with us at all times. Some say these assistants will even act as your new therapist, sensing our emotions and making conclusions about our mental state.

This connection will expand into the world of retail as well, creating new experiences that blend in-store with online e-commerce. The AR-enabled fitting room experience is something that one day will be table stakes, but convenience will be more of the focus with seamless mobile wallet transactions and a digital concierge or assistant with you in-store at all times. Beacons will be the new inputs to real-time tracking of inventory, shipping, and even measuring foot traffic.


Smart Transportation and Smart Cities

5G’s impact on the world will go well beyond the individual’s experience with technology. As the world’s population begins to become more concentrated in urban areas, we’ll have a heightened need to create more collaborative, connected cities. The information and coordination of how we live and work in densely populated areas will evolve.

3D beamforming will allow for more accurate and concentrated signals in higher-populated areas or places in more need of data. This is a capability current 4G LTE towers don’t have the ability to do. This will begin to enhance live experiences like sporting events, music concerts and festivals, conferences, and even how we experience these events remotely from a mobile device or VR headset.

A great example will be the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Japan, along with numerous tech companies, is already working to ensure the technology will be in place to experience the capabilities of 5G fully on display. Attendees and viewers from around the world will get to see what a “smart city” of the future might be like. The technology itself will begin to enhance and change what we think about traditional ways of connection at live events. From the most tribal cultural acts like dancing to singing together at festivals, to Q&As and panels at conferences, the way we connect to each will not only be more interactive, but perhaps take us out of the standard physical spaces we’re used to and take us into VR or be enhanced with AR.

This evolution of speed and capacity will also bring on more connected transportation for getting around in crowded cities. New systems will analyze and optimize traffic patterns. We are already beginning to see voice assistants like Alexa being integrated into the driver experience in car manufacturers such as Toyota. But voice is just one aspect of how the world will become more connected. New vehicles will have traffic flow and traffic light data built in to optimize a route or the speed at which you’re driving. Connected cameras and sensors on the street and in public spaces will monitor foot traffic, parking availability, and even identify when there are issues like a wreck or a broken-down vehicle. As the vehicles on the road become more advanced, we’ll have new forms of entertainment and recommendation engines on the road as we move about.

For marketers, this creates new spaces and new data feeds to reach consumers “on the go.” It will go beyond mobile and open new capabilities with location data powering a new set of ad types. Programmatic will expand to a new set of inventory of digital out-of-home and streaming audio placements. We will even see the sci-fi movie idea of personalized ads based on facial recognition come to life. These new media will be fueled by data and machine learning. As more of this data from new applications and technologies becomes available to brands, there will be a resurgence of creativity and new ways to connect with our audience.


AI Fueled by 5G Speed

5G will generate a vast new stream of data to feed insights for prediction, targeting, and novel ways of machine learning. Machine learning itself will scale with an acceleration of data at our fingertips and an increased bandwidth to execute the computing needed for such massive calculations. With that said, our expectations for 5G and machine learning are at an all-time high. Like all new technologies, there’s a period of time where the realities are overhyped. These changes and innovations may not happen as quickly as we might expect, but now is the time to begin getting prepared and familiar with how this will affect what we do as marketers.

All of the new, contextual data available because of 5G will also become available to marketers in some way, shape, or form. The power is not that it will be available, but it will be what we do with that data to make strategic decisions and how we advance the customer experience itself.

From a marketing standpoint, with the right partners, technology, and tools, you will be able to get to a hyper-personalized message in real time bringing massive levels of insights for low margins of cost comparatively.

These technologies will lay the foundation and a new road map for entirely new business models and even new industries. We’ll need to start adjusting the way we think about products and services. How we deliver, support, and market them to consumers will need to change. Our way of dealing with customer service and support will have to adjust as well – our expectations of how a brand responds to consumers will shift with new disrupting technologies.


How to Prepare for Marketing in a 5G World

With so much rapid change, it’s not surprising that the way we approach marketing, specifically digital, will evolve. In fact, the way we work overall will change. The importance of agility and building cross-functional tightly knit teams will increase. We’ll need new roles with advanced specialties working with data and building AI. Our focus on the right people will be a challenge because of the lack of knowledge and experience in the space – the human element will be an ongoing aspect of who wins in the long term.

Entire industries and corporations will play a bigger role. Companies will begin to consolidate, and they will become stronger with big data, cloud computing, and automation. The question of who owns the data will continue to be an issue. Data privacy will be an ongoing dispute. Social systems and government regulations in regard to data will become an ever-evolving debate, not just in the U.S. but globally.

As marketers, it will be more important than ever to think about the individual – not just the one-to-one messaging and personalization that will be available to us, but also the rights that those individuals carry. We are already beginning to see some movement in legislatures, specifically in California, related to cyber-security and connected devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home – but this is really just the beginning. As an industry, we’ll need to do even more than ever to ensure we’re working with trusted partners and secure networks to protect the new, powerful resources we’ll have at our fingertips.

As individuals and teams, we must begin experimenting with using new tools, new technologies, and new techniques to gain experience with not only new data points and signals, but also with machine learning. Success means living in a state of constant learning and experimentation.

Lastly, our own creativity, imagination, and critical thinking will differentiate how we continue to keep our brands moving forward. We’ll need to continue to find the human insight that creates meaningful connection with real people…not just another data point.

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