When Apple announced in late July 2019 that it would acquire the majority of Intel’s smartphone modem business, the technology industry started perking up with stories about Apple’s imminent expansion into 5G technology. Sure enough, within days the tech press was full of reports that 5G iPhones were coming as soon as the fall.
The expansion of mobile networks using 5G connectivity is expected to be the catalyst for a great leap in connected user experiences, both online and in-store. Besides accommodating more devices to connect than most Wi-Fi networks allow to date, 5G also represents a leap forward in connection speed—it’s 10 times faster than most broadband networks now available—and reliability.
So it’s easy to understand why the future of marketing and consumer engagement in a 5G environment has been a huge topic at many an industry gathering this year. The overriding conclusion has been this: 5G will set the standard for consumer expectations sooner rather than later.
5G Fast Lane
In fact, user experiences across every industry can expect to be disrupted by 5G. Back in January, AT&T Business CEO John Donovan told the audience at the Consumer Electronics Show that AT&T was working with startups and established companies to develop products that “just won’t work” without 5G.
Many experts say the future of blue-sky applications, such as self-driving cars, rests on the adoption of 5G. In a meeting with reporters earlier this summer, Dmitri Dolgov, CTO of Waymo, Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle subsidiary, said 5G will be an “enabler” and “accelerator” to the development. For example, 5G will allow Waymo cars to react to road conditions and situations fast enough to avoid some of the accidents that have plagued early versions of the autonomous vehicles in tests, insiders say.
In fact, this summer Ford Motor applied to the FCC for permission to establish its own 5G communications network to test connected-car applications. The company had previously announced plans to roll out 5G-connected cars in its entire lineup by the 2022 model year. A Ford official told Bloomberg.com that 5G made more sense to power the connected car than other technologies.
Retailers, too, are taking advantage of 5G connectivity to enable new in-store applications. Dutch international retailer Ahold Delhaize is using 5G at 500 Stop & Shop and Giant Food Stores, where a robot called Marty patrols the grocery aisles, spotting shelves that need restocking and cleaning up spills. The maker of Marty, Badger Technologies, partnered with AT&T Foundry, the telecom’s incubator, to combine 5G and robotics and expand the use of robots in retail.
“5G is an important next step to helping ensure shared visibility across critical inventory, POS, and operational systems,” said Tim Rowland, CEO of Badger Technologies, which developed Marty in a partnership with AT&T Foundry, the telecom’s incubator, to combine 5G and robotics and expand the use of robots in retail.
In addition, 5G will provide a big boost in the worlds of augmented and virtual realities. A recent Gartner report forecasts 100 million shoppers worldwide will use AR and VR applications to shop by 2020, thanks in large part to 5G. The report notes many retailers worldwide, such as Alibaba, Adidas, and Tesco, are already piloting new VR and AR shopping applications, with the expectation “that the implementation of 5G and AR/VR in stores will transform not only customer engagement but also the entire product management cycle of brands,” according to Sylvain Fabre, senior research director at Gartner.
Thanks to the shorter latency and faster speed of 5G, retail solutions such as “magic mirrors” and AR could, for example, provide a truly personalized shopping experience to the person standing before it, suggesting additional pieces that fit the person’s body, not just a few suggestions based on what other shoppers have picked before.
“Instead of trying on four or five or 10 things, you can literally try on hundreds of combinations in real time,” said Mo Katibeh, CMO of AT&T Business. “You’re creating a physical and digital experience that historically you only could have dreamt about, as well as creating operational outcomes for that business in terms of less restocking, more of your people interacting with your customers, etc.”
Some say 5G technology could be the solution to many user experience headaches, such as slow website speeds and jerky video. According to a survey of more than 4,000 U.S. and U.K. mobile users, 33% expect 5G will be the answer to their connectivity issues, and almost nine out of 10 would upgrade their phones and pay more for 5G service.
5G will allow phones to stream the best quality graphics, said Luke Ritchie, head of interactive arts at Nexus Studios, which has produced interactive content for The New Yorker and the rock band U2. 5G will allow “Hollywood-blockbuster graphics running on a phone," he said at CES.
According to Verizon CEO Hans Vesterberg, “If you’re not excited about anything else, you should be excited about 5G,” he told attendees at the Digital Content Newfronts this past spring. His company is making a big bet on 5G, including the launch of its first 5G production studio in Los Angeles.
Verizon also announced it has developed partnerships with media companies and sponsors to develop content for the new technology. For example, Reuters and the Associated Press will work with Verizon’s Yahoo News to develop immersive content on 5G and will offer “mobile-first multisensory content” of the 2020 elections, said Charity Elder, head of video and audio at Yahoo News, during the Newfronts.
Marriott, too, is developing 5G content with Verizon Media to enhance the traveling experience, especially for frequent travelers in its new Bonvoy loyalty program, said Andy Kauffman, senior VP, global marketing optimization at Marriott International. Following the merger of Starwood and Marriott, the combined company is looking for fewer and better partnerships to engage Bonvoy members on paid media, he told media buyers at NewFronts.
While many experts said the hospitality business overall is not quite ready to adopt 5G, partly due to the expense of upgrading networks in existing buildings, they are anticipating the improved connectivity will be a hit with consumers, who carry multiple connected devices when they travel.
That hasn’t deterred InterContinental Hotels chain, which in April teamed up with Chinese telecom Shenzhen Telecom and handset maker Huawei to wire what they billed as the world’s first 5G-powered hotel. The InterContinental Shenzhen will offer an “immersive entertainment experience” with welcome robots that offer hotel and destination information and handle guest deliveries, as well as virtual reality games, 4K streaming video, and a VR rowing machine for guests in hotel suites.
“There's a lot to be excited about 5G,” Kauffman said. “It comes down to delivering rich experiences, delivered quickly. … We’re excited by what 5G can enable."
The healthcare industry is excited too. An Ericsson study predicted that 5G will open opportunities worth $76 billion by 2026 for mobile operators applying the technology to everything from telemedicine to robotic surgery, offering access to top-level care to patients in remote areas. Companies are already working on wearables that apply Internet of Things technology to monitoring patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease.
“5G is an open invitation not simply to change the way to do certain things, but to fundamentally rethink all of it,” said Dr. Christopher Morley, co-founder of Medivis, at CES. Data connected with the patient and new practices can overhaul medical practices that haven't changed in 30 years, said Morley, whose company is using technology to change medical imaging and diagnostic tools with an AR technology platform for surgical applications.
For example, Katibeh noted that AT&T is partnering in a pilot program with hospice provider Vitas to enable an immersive virtual reality experience for hospice patients in order to improve their quality of life and reduce the need for opioids in end-of-life treatment.
The beauty of the 5G revolution is that it’s arriving just as other game-changing technologies, such as edge computing, the Internet of Things, and artificial intelligence, are coming into their own, Katibeh said. Coupled with 5G, those other tools can spur innovations that could not be possible before, he said.
“When you combine these elements together, you really create an environment that will transform retail, that’s going to make autonomous vehicles a reality, and makes it possible to build smart factories and revolutionize healthcare for you,” Katibeh said. “It will shape society in the years to come.”
This will require CMOs and marketers “to really lean in and understand this emerging technology,” he added. Otherwise, they risk being left behind, he said, as competitors create new experiences that “then reshape the end consumer's expectation of what an amazing experience looks like.”