Within the next three years, wireless speeds are set to jump tenfold, making the current network look as antiquated as dial-up modems. While that's a dazzling proposition, no one knows what the full impact of 5G will be.
"When we were devising 4G, no one was thinking of Uber, no one in Washington was thinking of Snapchat or Instagram," Dean Brenner, senior vice president for government affairs at Qualcomm, told Bloomberg. "No one was thinking of Pokemon Go. The truth is, we don't know."
For consumers, 5G's more tangible benefits include longer battery life, consistent user experience across devices, switching sessions across devices, much faster live streaming and immersive video chats. Augmented reality and virtual reality will become mainstream. Cars, homes, and everyday devices will be connected, producing unbelievable amounts of data.
What does this mean for marketers? Here are a few likely opportunities:
1. Extreme personalization. Looking ahead, the very nature of advertising is poised to change, becoming more intimate. Already, three out of eight people say they love some brands more than their spouses. If that doesn't give you pause, this might. Amy Kean, head of futures at Havas, predicts that in 2025 we'll all be interacting with holographic representatives of brands that will be "created based on what each individual finds attractive."
Here's a more prosaic example: While driving by an REI, your car's dashboard notification system reminds you that you are in the market for a bike rack; it suggests that you can stop into the store within five minutes. Once inside, your mobile device highlights where the items are in the store, and steers you towards bike racks that connect to a trailer hitch. Your phone "knows" that's what you're in the market for. As you're mulling your purchase, REI sweetens the deal by offering a $50-off coupon. This kind of opt-in experience saves consumers time and money.
2. Video everywhere. In 2016, digital video advertising is already growing incredibly fast, particularly on mobile. Mobile video ad spending jumped 80.6% in 2015, according to eMarketer, which projects double-digit growth through 2019. That is occurring with so-so 4G connections. With 5G, consumers will be able to download a 4K movie in 10 minutes, about one-sixth the time it takes to do so with 4G. For advertisers, this means that video will become a much more targeted medium. Freed from the relative sluggishness of 4G connections, marketers will be able to offer audiences rich video experiences on mobile that they cannot today.
3. VR/AR media. At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that VR was going to be the next big thing. Zuckerberg's scenario didn't revolve around gaming though. Instead, he pictured new parents sharing their child's first steps with relatives and friends.
It's also easy to see how the media could employ this technology. Rather than video from an earthquake in Turkey or a protest rally in the U.S., a media outlet like The New York Times could share a live VR experience from those places. Marketers could do the same. Instead of showing Felix Baumgartner jumping out of a space capsule from 24 miles above the earth, Red Bull could put you there with Baumgartner.
Those are just a few ways that 5G is going to overhaul marketing as we know it. But as Brenner noted, it will have other effects we can't anticipate. Just as the smartphone revolution ushered in the app economy and, then, Uber and showrooming, 5G will bring both opportunities and challenges.
For consumers, 5G will remove much of the friction they experience in everyday life -- friction that is often about interacting with brands. For marketers, 5G will provide better opportunity to engage with consumers in a more personalized and meaningful way.
True personalization requires data and content that can only be delivered in a 5G world. Marketing will be a data-driven endeavor that combines the analytics of a data scientist and the personalization of a hospitality executive. Rather than messaging to the masses, marketing will become more about engineering wins during micro moments of decision and influence. Marketing is beginning to embrace this change, but 5G will turbocharge it.