GIF of Rocket blasting off in front of 5G
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What’s 5G and what does it mean for advertising?

By Adam Gowen

Earlier this year, Verizon announced that their next step in the race towards 5G would occur here in Des Moines. Des Moines is the 20th city to receive a 5G mobile network from Verizon, with the wireless carrier aiming to reach 30 cities by the start of 2020.

Verizon joins the rest of the major mobile carriers trying to grow their 5G networks. Even though 5G coverage is expanding on a weekly basis, if you haven’t noticed the monumental shift that the carriers promise, you’re not alone.

5G, in its current state, is more like a beta test than a full-fledged network. It’s available only in a limited number of cities with limited range, and the network can only be used by certain mobile phones with the right hardware.

Experts think we won’t get to experience the full capability of 5G until 2021 or 2022. Until then, expect to hear a lot of hype about expanding 5G networks and the world of possibility that awaits once 5G is more widespread.

Though we might be in the Wild West for 5G coverage now, it’s never too early to start getting excited.

What is 5G?

5G is the name given to the fifth generation of wireless cellular technology standards. When mobile phones first became widespread in the 1980s, mobile carriers recognized a need to standardize the capabilities of cellular networks. The 1st generation, or 1G, refers to the analog telecom standards, with the first purely digital cell network standard coming in the early 90s during 2G.

Each subsequent generation of technology has provided users with faster download speeds and less lag time between action and response, known as latency. The improved capabilities of each generation also give tech companies the opportunity to expand the abilities of mobile devices. In our current generation, 4G, we’re able to stream HD videos and games, make low-latency video calls, and effortlessly surf the web.

5G is supposed to bring even faster download speeds, even less latency, and greater bandwidth to cellular networks. The most robust 5G networks promise data download speeds over 100 times what we have today, and latency is set to fall to somewhere between 1 and 10 milliseconds. This jump in performance means that mobile networks can transmit incredible amounts of data in a very short amount of time. This near instantaneous transfer of large swaths of data is what will inspire the greatest technological shifts.

What does it mean for advertising?

Experts predict that the proliferation of 5G will set the “fourth industrial revolution” into motion. The ability for networks to digest data instantaneously from a variety of sources will allow technology to be linked in ways that are not possible now, from self-driving cars communicating with each other to connecting literally billions of more devices to the cloud.

Claims from mobile carriers about downloading movies in seconds or being able to make video calls in crowded sports arenas might raise the consumer’s eyebrows, but the potential that 5G has for business and marketing is forcing advertisers to take a closer look as well.

Video Stays on Top

The most prominent trend in digital advertising is the rise of video as the most-consumed content on the web. 5G will decrease load times and buffering speeds for web pages and videos, which will likely result in consumers watching even more mobile video than ever before.

According to Cisco Visual Networking, video traffic will account for 82% of all IP traffic (both business and consumer) by 2022, up from 75% in 2017.

Time spent watching videos will continue to grow under 5G, so consumers should expect that the amount of ads they see will rise along with it.

“Hey Alexa…”

Demand for smart speakers, like Amazon’s Alexa, boomed in 2019, with sales of these devices expected to outpace 2018 by 35%. Smart speakers and voice assistants require quick access to large amounts of data to accurately encode a spoken command and return a valuable response.

Not only will 5G allow smart speakers and voice assistants to be even faster and more helpful, the data transfer speeds available from 5G networks will allow smart speakers to leave the home and become more versatile.

As voice assistants become more ubiquitous, advertisers will find new ways to take advantage of the rise in this technology.

Big Data Gets Bigger

5G networks will have the bandwidth necessary for billions of new devices to be connected to the internet. These networks can accommodate over 1 million “things” per square kilometer, compared to only about 61,000 today.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term used to describe the concept of connecting any possible device to the internet, including cell phones, household appliances, machines, and more. With 5G’s increased bandwidth, the number of connected items will skyrocket and the connection between items will become more efficient and seamless. Advertisers should be prepared to interact with users across a variety of devices with an array of ad formats.

As the number of connected items grows, the amount of data available to marketers will grow too. It might be difficult at first for marketers to separate the good data from the junk, but once people can reliably find good data to use on a large scale, consumers will experience ads with unprecedented specificity and timeliness.

Lightning fast data transfer makes it easier for advertisers to meet the consumer in the right place at the right time, and the wealth of data from IoT will allow the ads to be more specific than before.

Ad Formats Evolve

There are several ad formats currently available that are only held back by lagging 4G networks. Artificial reality (AR) and interactive ads are both immersive ad formats that currently require more speed and less latency than 4G can provide. The expansion of 5G will let advertisers use these formats with more reliability and less lag.

Advertisers currently have to strike a balance between creating compelling creative and minimizing web page load time. High-definition or interactive digital display ads increase the time it takes for a web page to load, which can cause some site visitors to jump ship before they even see the ad.

With 5G, download speeds will fast enough that there will be no limits to the quality of creative featured on a webpage. 4K and live videos will be commonplace throughout the web, and yes, even on mobile.

AR started as a bit gimmicky and has only emerged as a legitimate ad format recently. Unfortunately, the restricted transfer speeds of 4G force AR to stay in its infancy. But with the arrival of 5G, consumers will see AR mature into an immersive and effective format.

To the Starting Line

The arms race for widespread 5G is on for mobile carriers, and the race for brands to activate on 5G will be next up. You’ll want a digital partner ready to embrace the possibility that 5G holds, and here at Happy Medium, we’re always looking for ways to push the web forward. If your marketing could use a future-proof face-lift, let’s chat.

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