Seriously, we need to talk about 5G

The tech is now here. Why aren't we making more noise about it?

5G is now here – switched on in both the UK and the US. Boom!

Given that the most transformative technology of the next 10 years is finally live, you would think that Cannes would have been awash with discussion of 5G.

But no. 5G hung around the edges of Croisette conversation – and it did so because people are missing the point.

5G isn’t just faster mobile downloads; it’s a redrawing of the playing field for interaction between brands and customers. 5G has the potential to rewrite our industry and, crucially, our clients’ industries. Data research company Ovum predicts that the global media industry stands to gain $765bn in cumulative revenues from new 5G services and applications. That’s a number big enough to clear any kind of post-Cannes hangover.

This technology is here, so why aren’t we making more noise about it?

Looking Glass comms

5G will change the way consumers watch, socialise, communicate and shop. To act, we need to understand that 5G is not more of the same; it’s like dropping through the Looking Glass. It’s not just about smartphones; it’s multiple devices from the very largest to the very smallest, all talking to each other.

It’s not just improved speed; it’s latency so short that everything connects in real time. 5G is cars talking to smartphones that talk to buildings that talk to energy grids. It’s food packaging that can tell you where it was picked. It’s online and offline retail blurring through augmented reality. No sector will be immune from the effects and that includes the advertising and marketing industries.

New kinds of video

4G bandwidth brought with it our current video-dominated social media landscape – from micro-video-sharing to binge-watching on the train to streaming major sports events on the move. 5G will open up new possibilities again – not just more video or higher-resolution video, but a different kind of video.

Black Mirror’s "choose your own adventure" format in Bandersnatch on Netflix is just the start of what 5G could deliver; linear video can become direct response TV. We can also explore new levels of personalisation. Imagine movie and TV product placement that changes in real time on different devices for different people, depending on their location or how they’re feeling at that moment. 

But while the prospects might be exciting, they’ll also put pressure on our established systems and already stretched production budgets. Responding to these challenges will require nothing less than new industry structures.

Brand beyond TV

Beyond video, 5G will open up whole new opportunities and challenges for brands. The technology delivers data reaction times that are 10 times faster than human eye-to-brain speed and will connect all sorts of smart objects through a wireless Internet of Things. This means that brand service and experience move out of linear messaging and into wrapping all around us. Alexa is only the start.

Nissan, for instance, is developing a 5G-based humanoid virtual assistant that appears to sit next to you in your car to support you with local information. Brands will need to manifest themselves in new and subtle ways with a depth of interaction we’ve not had to consider before. But the presence of that brand will always need to be consistent.

A Persil home-laundry robot should have a very different character to a Method home-laundry robot. But what does that mean in practice? And who will curate these new experiences? New demands will force us to rethink our inherited industry roles. Global creative newsletter Maekan suggested that the crowded media landscape required a new brand role along the line of a brand editor-in-chief, but 5G will push that further and perhaps require a specialist brand experience director – someone who can view the multidimensional 5G world holistically for the brand and understand how it manifests for individual users. 

The collective experience

Beyond speed of data, 5G also brings a new era of volume of users. 4G supports only 4,000 devices per square kilometre, but 5G can support up to a million devices in the same space. This should transform digital experiences at sports stadiums and music festivals.

Not only will users be able to reach traditional platforms without connectivity issues, they will also be able to move into a space of personalised AR experiences layered on the real-world experience. Real-time sports data can appear over a quarterback’s throw, comments from friends can display when a band play a favourite song. This is a huge opportunity for brands with relationships in this space – be it betting, beer or more.

To make the most of the 5G opportunity, we’ll need to collaborate in new ways – with each other, with brands and with customers. Yes, there are challenges ahead for 5G – the logistical problems of getting the system live at scale are well-documented – but it’s no more daunting than the goal of connecting every home through superfast fibre-optic. Get it right and we can open up new worlds. 

Guy Wieynk is founder of Serum Consulting and former chief executive of Publicis Worldwide UK (now Publicis.Poke)

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