Consumer Electronics Show

5G 'will be as revolutionary as electricity': CES news to know

Ad Age Remotely: The consensus seems to be it can't come soon enough

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At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, the subject that dominated much of the conversation was a wonky one: the fifth generation of mobile technology. To hear the believers tell it, it's eventual arrival can't come soon enough.

"5G will be as revolutionary as electricity," an interactive demonstration at Qualcomm's booth on the showroom floor told attendees.

"We spent the last 30 years connecting people; we will spend the next 30 years connecting things," says the company's CEO, Brian Modoff.

Although it remains to be seen how much of that is true, some companies are already trying to plant a flag.

AT&T, for example, updated its phones to replace the LTE symbol with a "5Ge" logo, a misleading suggestion that its phones are 5G ready. The new logo, the company said on the eve of CES, stands for "5G evolution."

"AT&T is apparently now saying that it has 5Ge network, but I think it is a misleading and a marketing ploy to get out in front of the competition," says Victoria Petrock, an analyst at eMarketer. "We have no 5G phones yet; we have seen prototypes on the showroom floor, but if there is no 5G phone, I don't understand how AT&T can be running a 5G network."

Viva the 5G revolution

When it does come, the fifth generation of mobile tech promises to change many things: virtual and augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, wearables, media consumption and even entire cities.

Some companies are placing their bets on the idea of so-called smart cities, stating that they can alleviate traffic congestion, reduce pollution and improve existing infrastructure. At CES, for example, AT&T said it will create connected street lights to its network so it can track energy usage and outages.

All of this also presents an opportunity for marketers.

Some $34 billion is expected to be spent on smart cities come 2020, of which a portion will be offset through companies offering to build out bus shelters, lamp posts that monitor foot traffic or interactive digital screens in exchange for ad space, says Ari Buchalter, CEO at Intersection.

"Every city wants to be smart, but the challenge is it's very expensive to deploy the infrastructure, the fiber and the [Internet of Things] devices to make it all happen," Buchalter says. "Marketing becomes a way to create a virtuous cycle around that because rather than using taxpayer dollars, you can tie it to an advertising concession."

Privacy will also be a concern.

"We have think about what privacy means in a public space," Buchalter says. "A common misconception is the Big Brother sense that smart cities will be always watching and always gathering data. Companies in this arena need to be thoughtful."

There will be plenty of time to think things through, as 5G won't be arriving any time soon.

"When it comes to 5G, it's not like flipping a switch," says Steve Koenig, VP of market research at the Consumer Technology Association. "At CES, we are seeing 5G take its first steps; we're just learning to walk here with 5G. And based on our own projections at the CTA, it won't be until 2022 until the majority of smartphones in the U.S. will be 5G enabled."

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