Forget the Galaxy S9. The real story from MWC is 5G
If you were underwhelmed by the announcements coming out of Mobile World Congress (MWC), the biggest mobile tech conference of the year, you aren’t alone. TechCrunch rated the major phone makers on their announcements and only Samsung managed to get a B, with every other company averaging Ds or Fs. And even so, the biggest “innovation” on the new Samsung Galaxy S9 is a variable aperture camera lens, which looks more like a marketing point than actual innovation.
But smartphone innovation wasn’t the real story emerging from MWC—the real story is that 5G networks are almost here. Why is 5G such a big deal? Because it’s the technology that will actually change consumer behavior, and marketers will need to stay one step ahead.
What is 5G and why does it matter?
For the uninitiated, 5G is the fifth generation of wireless networking. While it’s easy to simplify the improvements of each generation to speeds, there’s actually a lot more going on than that. In addition to 10-100x speed gains over 4G, 5G will dramatically cut down latency, which is the annoying lag you experience during video calls. Additionally, 5G will allow more devices to connect to its network without being overwhelmed.
This combination of speed, low latency, and the ability to connect lots of devices at once means there will be a fundamental shift in consumer behavior once 5G rolls out. The increase speeds will result in higher video consumption at higher resolutions. Consumers will no longer need to sacrifice video quality during their commute and will instead be able to stream high definition (perhaps even 4K) content straight to their phones. Hi-Res Audio could also be streamed to phones with services, improving listening experiences.
Beyond media consumption, low latency means multiplayer games and live videos will be the norm. With lower latency, app developers could create truly live multiplayer experiences for mobile. Additionally, low latency means live video streaming will be lag-free and much higher quality.
The exponential speed and latency improvements of 5G will mean developers and content creators will be able to craft new, innovative experiences for mobile using platforms like AR and VR (using ARKit and ARCore), and advertisers will be able to communicate with consumers with the same technologies. While video and playable ads rule today, imagine the type of interactive ads that will be possible with the low-latency, fast download speeds of 5G, and exponentially powerful hardware of phones being released over the next couple of years. Instead of playing a video showing your product, consumers will be able to take a virtual tour around it using AR.
Last but not least, machine-to-machine communication means things like the Internet of Things (IoT) and self-driving cars will finally have the ability to communicate with one another. Combined with lower latency, 5G will usher in the next wave of internet-connected devices that rely on the cloud to process and transmit data without the worry of overcrowding the network. While you won’t be hailing a self-driving car in the immediate future, 5G will provide the infrastructure for autonomous cars to communicate with one another to find more efficient routes and to prevent collisions. Chipmaker Qualcomm has already started tests in major cities across the United States.
5G sounds great, but what’s the catch?
We predicted that 2018 would be the year that 5G makes it debut, and there’s evidence now to support this claim. T-Mobile announced that it would ready its 5G networks in 30 major cities around the country by this year. Sprint plans to roll out its 5G network by 2019, and both AT&T and Verizon plan to release 5G hotspots this year before rolling out their 5G network more widely.
Although carriers are all-in on 5G, there are still some significant hurdles to overcome before 5G becomes the norm. While carriers are updating cell towers to handle 5G, consumers will have to buy new phones and IoT devices with 5G-capable modems in order to take advantage of the speeds and low latency. On top of that, phones will also have to be powerful enough to support the increased data usage and processing power for new mobile experiences like AR and VR.
In the US, the lack of net neutrality protections and an unstable regulatory environment means that the roll out of 5G could be delayed. Speaking at MWC, Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm said, “Government must start to look at mobile infrastructure as a critical national resource, and not just a resource for tax dollars.”
These are significant hurdles for 5G to overcome, but once 5G arrives, its effects across the mobile industry will be felt. Both marketers and developers should anticipate the changes in consumer behavior that 5G will bring, or face an unwanted wake up call when the industry moves on without them.