5G: The Promise and Reality of 5G

What’s Coming, When and What Advertisers can Expect

by Annie Flippo, Head of Data Science, Thinknear by Telenav

What is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of wireless communication technology. It is designed to operate in the higher frequency and low-range signal, therefore, promising a significant improvement in data transfer speed. Since 5G operates in the higher frequency wavelengths, it allows data to be transferred much more quickly than the lower frequency bands of 4G.  However, the drawback of higher frequency is that the signal does not travel as far. The wireless providers, hence, have to increase the number of transmission stations and antennas for 5G service than they already have in place with the current 4G cellular towers.

What’s in it for users?

5G promises a speed from 5-50x faster than our current 4G technology.  This means users with 5G capable mobile devices can stream videos (such as 3D or IMAX movies), play games (such as new HD or multi-player games), immerse in AR/VR experiences and move more data at greater speed and with lower latency.  With the increased capability to move more data quickly, the users will have a better real-time, immersive experience with their applications such as videos, shopping, and other mobile apps.  The new 5G innovation will open up a new set of devices such as IoT devices, web-enabled cameras, new wearables (such as connected eyewear, contact lenses, fitness trackers, etc.) and driverless/autonomous vehicles that can send and receive vital information to make real-time decisions. The users’ smartphones will be even more indispensable and most likely become their primary source of information. It is expected that new applications will take the user’s capability and experience to new heights. 

What’s in it for marketers?

The dense clusters of 5G antennas provide a high frequency, low latency and highly reliable network that will achieve sub-meter accuracy.  In many markets, location awareness is an essential feature of their applications.  With 5G networks, you will be able to pinpoint a user’s location accurately down to the retailer level or within a section of a building.   No need to guess or model probabilistically if the user is at the grocery store or the dry cleaner next door within a strip mall. The location will be known within less than a meter.  Depending on the configuration of the 5G antennas, such as circular or cylindrical antenna arrays, it is possible to estimate elevation and angles which enables 3D location positioning.  At this point, the realization of location polygon targeting will become reality and marketing teams can track whether their marketing efforts really had an effect on in-store visits.

Where do we stand with it today?

The wireless providers such as Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile to name a few are racing to build their 5G networks in the U.S.  Some, such as Verizon, have started to launch test networks in certain cities such as Chicago.  However, the results have been mixed.  The devices need to be within a line of sight of antennas to get the high speed promised as the signal does not transmit through walls very well.  Users have to be equipped with a new 5G capable mobile device, some of which cost $1,300 or more, to take advantage of the high speed and low latency.  Since an average lifespan of a mobile device is 2.85 years, it will be a few years before the majority of the U.S. smartphone users possess new 5G smartphones.

The promise of 5G network will be fully realized when all the wireless providers install new equipment, upgrade existing stations and the consumers hold 5G capable phones in their hands. The spending surge will continue for infrastructure investment from $528 million in 2018 to $26 billion in 2022.  Even when 5G is deployed, it is unlikely it will be available in most rural areas and more likely that we have 5G hotspots in densely populated areas.  Until then, the location-based advertisement will continue to depend on our current GPS & wi-fi signals.  In the next 3 years, we will be sure to see steady improvements on mobile location accuracy and that is when advertisers can start to use more accurate targeting strategies and to see better attribution metrics.  Hold onto your hat and new device, 5G is coming!

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