As the world’s largest exhibition for the mobile industry, Mobile World Congress (MWC) has become something of a tech showcase. Cars, robots and AI-powered animatronic heads line the halls like rising skyscrapers in an industrialising city. But while there’s a real energy and buzz for all forms of outlandish technology, the event’s heartland still lies in mobile devices and communication.
And with a focus on “Intelligent Connectivity”, this year’s event is set amidst the backdrop of the impending launch of 5G. Short for fifth generation mobile network, 5G is predicted to reach British shores by late 2019.
With speeds up to 100 times faster than standard 4G, 5G connectivity has the power to re-shape much of how we live, touching everything from driverless cars to connected high streets.
But while widespread 5G adoption is perhaps still a few years away, there are unequivocal changes underway as the industry awaits its much-anticipated release.
Into The Fold
This week saw the launch of what some would argue is a major step change in the development of mobile devices: foldables. In its various forms, the folding screen has been touted as a catalyst to reinvigorate dwindling global handset sales, particularly with the emergence of 5G.
At MWC19, we saw brands from around the world reveal new, foldable devices, which rely on specific apps built to highlight how 5G can unlock dual screening on one handset. While practical applications may take some time to come to fruition, it’s an interesting development and one that brands will be looking to exploit in the coming years.
We can see this shift already, in the range of 5G-enabled devices on display at the event. From Samsung’s S10 and Fold, to Huawei’s Mate X to LG’s V50 Thing and Xiaomi’s Mi Mix 3, mobile manufacturers are furiously testing prototypes and new services in anticipation of 5G.
That said, one key element remains conspicuously missing: the network on which all these wondrous devices will run.
The Release of 5G
While the launch of 5G is tantalisingly close, its initial release in the UK will be limited to six cities: London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester.
EE is leading the charge, with a promise to extend its 5G coverage to an additional 15 cities by the end of 2019. Across Europe, GSMA estimates the rollout will cost between €300 billion and €500 billion. At such a staggering cost, it’s likely the rollout will be met with challenges from governments, who need clear, relevant and immediate business case studies to authorise the necessary investment.
So, while manufacturers are quick to show off their new 5G-enabled devices, it may be a few years before mass adoption really takes place.
The Future of 5G Brand Experiences
With super-fast internet speeds and major upgrades to the mobile experience, potential applications for 5G abound. At Wembley Stadium, BT Sport has conducted early tests to redefine the broadcasting of live sport. By using 5G-enabled networks rather than satellites, BT Sport no longer requires on-site technical staff to ensure live coverage. For the consumer, this connectivity could transform the viewing experience – both in the stadium and at home.
LG’s dual screen device at MWC19 demonstrated some of these possibilities, with the ability to tailor live experiences on-device. Through slow-motion content and changing camera angles on live footage, viewers could potentially customise the match according to their preferred choice.
Looking further afield, many are expecting 5G to redefine consumer-facing experiences, such as connected high streets, driverless vehicles and major upgrades to transport infrastructure. Just this week, South Western Railway announced the impending rollout of its 5G network.
Clearly, the wheels are starting to turn. The shift to 5G in permanent spaces where there is a consistent, predictable need and an existing commercial model makes most sense initially. Think sports stadiums, popular venues and tourist attractions like museums. But for the average consumer, streaming Netflix on the go without buffering may be where things start.
At George P. Johnson, we’re patiently awaiting the launch of 5G, and will be keeping a keen eye on how these new devices, services and extra bandwidth can unlock powerful moments for our clients.