Q&A: Appnovation's Scott Wassmer On What 5G Means For Brands

While 5G is still nascent, there’s no doubt that consumers’ ability to harness the same transmission speeds on mobile as on home or even business networks will open engagement opportunities and drive behavioral changes that will also be game changers for brands and businesses. 

Here, Scott Wassmer, general manager of the Americas at Vancouver-based global digital agency Appnovation, offers some thoughts on the promise and potential potholes ahead. 

Let’s get specific. What types of transformative experiences and capabilities will emerge as 5G becomes widely available?

Wassmer:  Just as the advent of in-home broadband allowed for the proliferation of digital streaming services, immersive gaming experiences and the explosion of home automation, 5G will accelerate a similar revolution for the mobile experience.

Because of the expanded data pipe, technologies that would have been considered professional quality will soon be in the hands of the average person. For instance, Apple’s new iPhone 12 will give consumers the ability to make movies in 4K, at 60 fps [frames per second]. While some see this as a hardware improvement, it wouldn’t be possible without the ability to quickly move the large files into the cloud and distribute them.

Hand-held gaming has become the norm on mobile devices, but it’s always been limited by data transfer limitations. 5G removes that barrier, giving authors the ability to improve graphics and gameplay, making the games more immersive.

Other, less obvious, industries will also benefit. Larger data transmission will give the auto industry a boost toward full automation. Cars will have greater ability to “talk” to each other, resulting in safer roads for all. Telemedicine will have the opportunity to grow into areas currently held back by slower data pipes, giving consumers more options when it comes to both preventative health and health management.

What about the potential for integrating marketing into the consumer shopping experience?

Wassmer: Today, the integration of digital into the retail environment has been mostly limited to digital demos and one-sided experiences. 5G will enable creating personalized, physical in-store environments similar to those that have been emerging online. It will be possible to make physical retail experiences digital expressions of brands, while delivering high-end features found in ecommerce stores for personalization, advertising, and cross-selling and upselling.

Will 5G accelerate the mainstreaming of tech like VR and AR?

Wassmer:  While lots of companies and brands have experimented with VR and AR, few have been able to create compelling virtual worlds actually capable of driving long-term commercial success. 5G will give brands the opportunity to create richer graphics and deliver video in standards that have been exclusive to home WiFi. Remember, DVDs were once breakthrough, but they seemed dull once we had the opportunity to view Blu-ray.

What are the remaining obstacles for 5G? And what are the potential pitfalls or downsides for brands?

Wassmer:  Distribution and standardization factors currently stand in the way of brands realizing 5G’s marketing promise.

While most mobile phones are now built to enable 5G, the network itself isn’t yet as widespread as some advertising would have you believe. It’s going to take years for 5G services to become available across North America. And when it is, providers’ bandwidth offerings aren’t likely to be standardized. The user experience will differ from one network to another, especially between urban and rural locations, as providers decide where their biggest financial opportunities lie.

So as the technology expands across North America, brands should consider the consistency of their user experience. Early adopters who publicly use 5G as a differentiator in their omnichannel experiences may not be able to deliver consistently on their brand promise in all environments.

The other challenge brands may face is the constant push to keep up with the Joneses. Jumping into trying to use new technology without being sure that you have the necessary digital infrastructure will result in disjointed or disappointing experiences for consumers.

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