“2020 is the year of 5G.” How many times have we heard that phrase, or something similar said about an innovative technology? Just last year, Gartner forecast that the worldwide 5G network infrastructure revenue would reach $4.2 Billion in 2020, an 89% increase from 2019.

There is one unique difference with 5G, however, compared to other technologies. It is not only regarded as transformative for almost every sector, it is being widely trialled and implemented by businesses around the world right now. And while the infrastructure globally and in the UK isn’t quite in place, leading mobile providers from Samsung and Apple are launching phones that are ‘5G-ready’.

The countdown to the mass 5G revolution has begun. And if you think we live in a society of convenience and immediacy online, just wait until 5G reaches scale.

The future is 5G
So why is 5G gaining so much attention? Well, 1G gave us voice, 2G added text, 3G enabled basic mobile computing and when 4G launched in 2013, it revolutionised the way we use mobile devices, driving the growth of streaming platforms. It also gave the gig economy the fuel it needed to take off.

Take the impact of the global pandemic with millions confined to their homes during Covid-19 lockdown. Netflix, YouTube, Disney+ and more were forced to slow the speed of their streaming services due to the increase in people watching at home. It was a necessary decision but one that may not have had to happen with a robust 5G network.

The big difference with 5G is with the speed of data transmission that it will enable. Imagine a garden hose. The water flowing through it is 4G data. 5G can make that data ‘hula hoop’. So not only is there a shorter wait time, but also a bigger funnel for information to travel through. And it’s much, much faster.

5G will enable genuine real-time communication. And communication over a network in real-time could be a game-changer for brands.

A fundamentally different world
If you strip everything back in advertising, brands face a very similar basic challenge: connecting with audiences in a meaningful, genuine and relevant way. These are some of the basic values that make up good advertising. And a 5G world where information can be transferred instantly could open up a stream of new opportunities.

Imagine a clothing retailer where we could try on clothes using augmented reality (AR); a tool like this would have been invaluable for high-street shops that had to close their doors during the lockdown. Imagine a gym where biometrics are measured so fitness goers can alter and optimise their work out in real-time.

All of this and much more will be possible with the advent of 5G. And the potential for faster, better user experiences will hopefully result in a higher quality of advertising.

This world is coming, but not yet
Despite so much promise, we must also face reality and the facts. 5G isn’t ready for widespread adoption yet. Communication providers need time to invest money and resource into the necessary infrastructure. Government-wide support is also needed to turn the implementation into reality. And for all of the 5G phones coming out, there is nowhere near enough for consumers.

Another issue that will come into factor is data regulation and concerns about privacy. 5G will see vast amounts of data captured in real time. Consumers will need time to feel comfortable about sharing this much data with business. According to a recent study, over a third of business leaders (35%) expressed concerns about 5G security.

Consumers and brands must take each step towards mass 5G adoption with an element of caution and responsibility. As Bill Gates once famously said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”

So, what next?
We need to start preparing now. Preparing for a world where friction in communication is considered laughable. This is much bigger than advertising. It’s no longer fiction but will be an entirely different way of living. What if surgeons could remotely monitor the health of thousands of patients in real-time? Or if farmers could create an online network to monitor and optimise the quality of their crops – watering plants only when needed and yielding the best possible produce.

5G will fundamentally change the way we do business, the way we advertise, the way we buy, the way we exercise, the way we produce. This world is coming whether we like it, or not. The question is no longer when, but will we be prepared?


By Lindsey Jordan, Head of Media Creativity & Polly Roberts, Strategy Director at MediaCom


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