Five Ways to Brace for 5G

Fifth-generation cellular standards will change communication forever. Here's what marketers can do to prepare

By Chuck Kapelke

Paul Taylor/Getty Images

No alphanumeric has generated more buzz in recent years than "5G," the abbreviation for the fifth-generation cellular standard that is slowly but surely coming online in cities throughout the world. Once implemented, 5G networks promise to deliver a dramatic increase in data speeds, reduced latency (the lag between user action and server response), and mind-blowing capacity to manage connectivity for billions of devices across the internet of things (IoT) — all of which will have serious implications for marketers. For now, there's a major onus on marketers to separate the rhetoric from the reality when it comes to 5G development.

"5G will be much more profound in its impact than any previous cellular transition; it will not only influence and impact the mobile industry, it's going to profoundly influence every other industry," says Penny Baldwin, SVP and CMO at Qualcomm, the San Diego-based company that invented the underlying technology for the 5G standard. "When you think of the exponential explosion of devices that are smart and connected, and the massive amounts of data and insights that's going to generate, that starts to get really interesting for marketers."

Some businesses have already started laying the groundwork for a 5G future. The National Football League, for example, has announced a partnership with Verizon to use 5G to enhance in-stadium experiences, mobile games, and video streaming. Meanwhile, other companies have started to experiment with the kinds of technologies that 5G will make possible. Domino's Pizza, for example, is implementing an order-to-buy system designed for car dashboards.

Professional service companies such as Deloitte have also begun thinking about how 5G could enhance their marketing strategies. "Every time we have a system upgrade like this, it spurs changes in the way you reach and service your customers, and the way you pull insights that lead to new product development," says Alicia Hatch, principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP and CMO at Deloitte Digital. "For our marketing, [5G] will unlock all kinds of new experiences that we can create."

5G is still in the nascent stage, but the future is coming fast, and marketers are smart to lay the groundwork for what will be possible once this new technology comes online. ANA magazine spoke with experts for their insights on how marketers can prepare now to harness 5G's potential to accelerate brand growth. Here are five areas for marketers to keep in mind.


1. Experiment with New Channels

While many wireless carriers offer 5G services in select cities, these are mostly small-scale rollouts limited to dense urban areas. Many hurdles remain before 5G becomes ubiquitous, including ratification of the standard itself, deployment of hundreds of thousands of 5G transmitters, and, of course, consumer adoption.

"We need several years before 5G reaches critical mass among consumers," says Thomas Husson, VP, principal analyst, marketing and strategy at Forrester. "It is still very early days and it will take time for carriers to roll out the infrastructure in each country and for consumers to adopt new 5G smartphones."

That doesn't rule out experimenting now, however, as the first cities to go online with 5G represent opportunities to begin testing with a target audience of early adopters. "In a world where we haven't reached scale yet, it's about starting to apply the earliest learning through testing," Hatch says. "Identify the new data sets that are becoming available and start to test against those to get insights that you can use to make smarter decisions in the future."

As another option for learning, many cellular carriers have set up developer programs and test labs where companies can begin to experiment with 5G applications. "The carriers are looking for ideas, they're looking for people to come in to test," says Bill Menezes, senior principal analyst on the sourcing, procurement, and vendor management research team at Gartner. "It's a good time to think ahead in terms of, what are things I'm thinking about doing in digital marketing, what's going to be enabled with 5G, and where is that overlap?"

Marketers should also start to build their expertise in emerging technologies that 5G will enable at a larger scale, such as mobile virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). "5G is going to enable new experiences," says Dan Hays, principal, strategy consulting team at PwC U.S., which deploys VR for marketing its services. "While we don't know all the forms that will take, they are more immersive and interactive experiences that present opportunities for marketing and advertising in new ways."

Key Takeaway: Brand managers need to create a culture of innovation in their marketing organizations and seek out opportunities for experimentation. "Marketers at this point would be well advised to start thinking about 'the art of the possible,'" Hays says. "What are the new experiences that could be enabled by 5G that would be relevant to their products and services, and what is the data that they may benefit from or want to collect that 5G connectivity could provide? Identify where there may be opportunities to do trials and new proofs of concept, identify who potential partners might be, and start to engage with some of these platforms."


2. Cultivate a Cellular Network Strategy

5G is expected to offer unprecedented capacity to support networking across vast numbers of devices — and to sense and transmit information in real time. "The 5G specification requires that the networks can support up to one million devices per square kilometer; that's unfathomable in modern cellular networks," Hays adds. "When you look at the broader internet of things, some of these newly connected devices may present opportunities for marketers."

"What is going to happen with 5G is that consumer expectations are going to skyrocket."
— Ashish Toshniwal, CEO at Y Media Labs

Digital out-of-home advertising will likely expand as a greater number of screens will have the ability to connect through cellular. Even in-home appliances, such as refrigerators and washing machines, could be tied in to the advertising ecosystem. Marketers should begin thinking about how their brands could benefit from an expanded IoT world.

"5G could enable marketers to turn any surface with a wireless transceiver into a high-resolution screen," says Husson of Forrester. "This could open a new era for extended reality, as overlays of high-quality, interactive, and intelligent imagery become available anywhere (there is 5G coverage), for example in store windows, on walls, or in car dashboards."

Key Takeaway: Marketers need to hone their skills in cross-channel marketing and out-of-home marketing and budget accordingly for both time and resources. "With sensors that 5G could enable at large scale, you may be able to know exactly how many people are interacting with or seeing your product or your message, and you may even be able to know what their characteristics are and how they are interacting," Hays adds.


3. Cross-Pollinate 5G with AI

The faster data transfer and lower latency that accompany 5G will enable cell phone users to engage with cloud-based artificial intelligence in real time in ways that have not previously been possible. "Because 5G is 100 times faster, the computing doesn't have to be on the mobile device, and on the server side, the computing is pretty much unlimited," says Ashish Toshniwal, CEO at Y Media Labs, a digital design and innovation agency. "With 5G, the true potential of artificial intelligence is going to be unlocked."

Enhanced AI built into cameras and other sensors — combined with more specific geolocation via the cellular signal — could usher in a new era of personalization. "With 5G, you're not just serving one ad to everybody, you're changing the ad based on who's looking at that ad, in real time, whether at a baseball game, or out on the street, or inside a retail store," Toshniwal says. "It's going to be heavily personalized toward the audience or the consumer."

Marketers will not only be able to use AI to adapt their messaging to consumers in real time, but also to integrate new data from a variety of sources. "The density of devices that 5G can carry allows us to begin collecting all of that sensor data from multiple points of the physical experience," Deloitte's Hatch says. "This is how systems start gaining a synergistic, mutually accelerating affect. AI is only as good as the data you pump into it, and as the volume and variety of data increases through 5G enablement, all that data being pumped into AI allows us to use it in much more compelling ways."

Key Takeaway: Create flexible systems for measurement and analytics that can integrate a growing array of data, and think about how to convert data into insights to bolster personalization and improve the consumer experience. "More and more, companies will be able to see in real time how their products and services are consumed," says Peter Linder, head of 5G marketing at Ericsson North America. "Today, you don't know what a car is doing between service points, because it's not continually talking to the network. As your products and services are continually talking with you and you're getting new data points, you can use that to fine-tune your marketing activities."


4. Transform the Customer Experience

The current digital marketing paradigm is based on desktop computers and mobile phones, but a world of connected devices will bring to life new ways to integrate digital experiences into physical spaces. "The expectation is that 5G will bring marketers a lot closer to their customers — and it will be more in real time," Linder says.

From personalized menus in restaurants to virtual concierges in department stores, the potential to enhance the customer experience is endless. "Retail will be profoundly impacted because 5G will allow the combination of what we call digitally enabled physical experiences (DEPE)," Qualcomm's Baldwin says. "Imagine I'm a Saks Fifth Avenue customer, and they know what brands I prefer to buy. When I walk into a store, the retail associates will be able to pull up my history of purchases and suggest goods and services that I can try on virtually or physically."

Whether by developing AR games or creating personalized audio streams for everyone who walks into a store, marketers who engage directly with the newest forms of communication will have an edge on competitors. "What is going to happen with 5G is that consumer expectations are going to skyrocket," Toshniwal adds.

Key Takeaway: The customer experience as brands now know it will be dramatically transformed by 5G. Marketers can stay at the leading edge by attending conferences and staying tapped into communities of creatives. The University of Southern California's Entertainment Technology Center, for example, is a think tank and research center dedicated to advancing the kinds of immersive experiences that 5G will enable.


5. Plan for the Unexpected

For all the hype, the 5G standard is still at an embryonic stage, and no one can predict exactly what changes it will foster. "As with every major cellular transition, there will be a whole range of applications and use cases that we haven't thought of," Baldwin says. "That's why it will be important for marketers to continually monitor the landscape to keep a pulse on new applications."

Marketers should dedicate time to learn about 5G and monitor early models for how they can be used to raise brand awareness and sharpen overall visibility. "Watch the global rollout of 5G, particularly in Asia, where they've designed entire business models in a mobile-first world," Hatch says. "We're starting to test innovation there, knowing that's an indicator of where things are headed."

It's also important to gauge how 5G could affect future media buying plans, for example, by disrupting the cable internet model. "The arrival of 5G is a potential threat for traditional cable and set-top box providers since the fixed wire infrastructure would no longer be necessary to deliver fast internet and hundreds of TV channels," Forrester's Husson says. "It would similarly disrupt the ad-buying and ad-serving infrastructure built around it."

Key Takeaway: Beyond marketing, the rise of 5G is likely to affect manufacturing, service delivery, and myriad aspects of business. Marketers should think broadly about how the future may unfold, and reach beyond their department to lead a dialogue about how 5G could drive brand growth and boost revenue.

"Consider the way that the data that you're getting, the insights you're pulling, have implications for the whole business model of your company, and not just for marketing," Hatch says. "Increasingly, that puts marketers at the board table and having a very different conversation as CMOs within the C-suite. It positions marketing as a more strategic business function in the business."


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