President Trump recently tweeted: "I want 5G, and even 6G technology in the United States as soon as possible. It is far more powerful, faster, and smarter than the current standard. American companies must step up their efforts, or get left behind. There is no reason that we should be lagging behind."
Why stop at six, Mr. President?
6G is still a mile off being activated; it remains a theoretical concept. But that's not the point, because 5G is real and it is here, and it is fantastic.
But what is it?
The G stands for generation, meaning that 5G is the fifth generation, or evolution, of wireless mobile communications. If we go back to the glory of the 1980s, then the analog transmissions we used can be defined as 1G, or first generation. The jump to digital in the 90s was the second generation, aka 2G. After this, we started relying on radio waves to move data from one place to another. And it's here where the more famous 3G, 4G, and now 5G (Sorry boss, but no 6G yet, or seven or eight…) have come in.
5G promises a sharp increase in the amount of data transmitted over wireless systems due to more available bandwidth and advanced antenna technology. Estimates vary wildly here, and we will have to wait and see, but they generally start at something like 5G being ten times as powerful as 4G. From here they go right up to the silliness of 100 times as fast according to some predictions.
In addition to improvements in speed, capacity, and latency, 5G offers network management. Within this is something interesting called Network Slicing, which allows mobile operators to create many virtual networks under the umbrella of a single physical 5G network. Network Slicing means that network connections can potentially be sold on an "as needed" basis. For example, a self-driving Google mobile would require an exceptionally fast connection with ultra-low latency, to navigate in real-time (it's on the real road after all). A Samsung refrigerator with a link to Amazon Pantry on its touch screen would not need anything like that performance, and as such Network Slicing would offer a far more tailored solution. 5G is powerful.
Outside of kitchens and cars, we can start thinking about terms such as "download" and "install" in the same bracket as "it is now safe to turn off your computer" and "please insert disc seven to continue installation". They will become obsolete, and we will see digital experiences become immediate and instantaneous immersive feeds.
The impact of 5G on advertising
Moving into the world of advertising, one of the first considerations should be how ubiquitous gigabit connection speeds, extremely low latency, and unrestricted capacity will unleash the possibilities of augmented reality.
AR itself isn't a new or cutting edge technology. A lot of us skulked around looking for Pokemon and in doing so, saw that we already have the means to create convincing AR experiences. The problem is that it's an extremely hardware-intensive process.
On top of this, AR, by its very nature, relies on immersion. Lag or a stutter can ruin the experience and remind us that we're actually not hunting for Pikachu, but walking the dog… in the rain.
To negate this, we need to maintain the suspension of our disbelief, and to that, we need a thoroughly convincing, smooth, real-time flawlessly rendered experience.
4G simply doesn't have enough muscle to do that
In a 5G environment, much of this intense processing can be looked after by the cloud, meaning that AR will now be cheaper and more energy-efficient. The possibilities are incredibly expansive, to the point of being hypothetical, but we can start to imagine such delights as AR within and coming from our self-driving cars. AR through the windows of our taxi and the lenses of our glasses even. And, of course, living in a world which can contain a million smartphones in a square mile, truly smart cities. The possibilities are often beyond imagination. What seemed ludicrous a short time ago is going to be outdated soon.
Voice assistants will become the norm as we become truly immersed. Mobile advertising will have to prepare and orient towards voice conversations. Advertisers will explore formats and ways to tap into the realm of voice-based advertising.
All of this means that there may be far more work for the advertiser, perhaps with more reward, but competition will be fierce now. Current data repositories may become obsolete. Programmatic will need to evolve as the amount of data being processed skyrockets. And platforms such as billboards will have to start working in real-time and become far more responsive.
Mr. Trump wants 6G, but we have more than enough on our hand with five... for now.