What Marketers Can Expect From 5G in 2021

What Marketers Can Expect From 5G in 2021

By  |  January 21, 2021  |  Uncategorized  |  No Comments

5G will be everywhere in 2021—but don’t hold your breath for the hyper-fast future that telecoms and analysts have been promising just yet.

Despite cell construction setbacks brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, the long-awaited next generation of wireless service is on track for a big year of growth. But experts say that it will be another couple years before it lives up to its full potential, which would mean reaching speeds of up to 100 times faster than 4G LTE and ushering in an array of connected devices ranging from autonomous cars to smart city grids.

“This year should have a significant impact on the performance and availability of 5G networks,” said PwC principal Daniel Hays. “But it’s really going to be two or three years before we see that at scale.”

Still, some narrow business applications of 5G are already starting to show promise, and the pandemic has created new forms of consumer demand for connectivity—all of which could have implications for marketers in the coming year, according to Hays.

“As these mobile networks mature, the opportunities for advertising and marketing—and for really immersive customer experience—will grow significantly,” Hays said.

Pandemic priorities

While quarantine-related shutdowns led to some logistics issues in the installation of cell equipment for 5G, the net impact was smaller than expected, and 5G coverage has continued to grow apace in the United States, according to recent data from PwC.

The portion of Americans with access to 5G networks has increased from about 60% in July of 2020 to three-quarters now, while the number who own the requisite devices jumped from 2% to 8% in the same period, according to the consulting and accounting firm. The company’s analysts expect coverage to increase to 80% and device penetration to 12% by this July.

Hays said the lag between network coverage and adoption of 5G-enabled devices is typical, especially with a general consumer trend away from frequent device upgrades in recent years. But the economic conditions of the pandemic have also exasperated the gap, with consumers in tighter financial situations less willing to spring for the latest iPhone.

The pandemic has also significantly boosted demand for 5G broadband in homes as people rely more on high-speed connections to work and communicate remotely, Hays said. Wireless carriers have looked to these in-home connections as a promising way to compete with traditional cable providers.

Ultimately, however, the main factor holding up adoption this year is the time it takes for wireless carriers to install all of the extra cell equipment it takes to broadcast mobile 5G at its fastest speeds.

Augmented reality and cloud gaming

As retailers and other brands have driven a surge in popularity in augmented reality during the pandemic, the format has also emerged as a top area of shorter-term potential for 5G connections, which will eventually facilitate more robust and intricate AR graphics. Hays said 5G-enabled AR has even seen unexpected growth in enterprise categories, where it’s being used for things like virtual training sessions.

Cloud gaming, where 5G connections can reduce the kind of latency that can make or break gaming performance, is another area that could spur 5G growth this year.

“The two new use cases that we’re most excited about, and think have the most legs in the near term, are cloud gaming and augmented reality,” Hays said.

But Forrester analyst Julie Ask said she isn’t sure whether 5G will reach a point where it significantly impacts AR this year, especially with live events in arenas and stadiums—the current best places to access the fastest 5G speeds—impossible for the foreseeable future because of the pandemic.

About the Author: Patrick Kulp

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