‘Real’ 5G? Don’t hold your breath

Mobile Marketing

As EE seeks to have an ad from rival operator Three that claims to offer the only 'real' 5G service banned, Daniel Bourne, a 17-year old intern working at Rezonence, offers a Gen Zer's perspective on 5G.

In our attention-limited world, you’d be forgiven for having missed the long-awaited launch of 5G; although EE accusing telecoms rival Three of breaching the advertising code this week may have done the trick.

And for those of you who did notice, the chances are you’re scratching your heads, wondering what (if any) impact it will have on your marketing campaigns.

But before we look at the more technical aspects of 5G, it’s important to understand what people are using their phones for, and how 5G will improve their mobile experience. The biggest group of mobile phone users – for whom 5G will be the most relevant – is the 16-24 age bracket, of which I am a member.

96 per cent of us use a smartphone, with 93 per cent of this use – according to Ofcom – for data access. So what are we doing on our phones that requires data? Unsurprisingly, social media comes out on top, with 73 per cent using mobile data for this; closely followed by listening to audio and watching video at 68 per cent and 67 per cent respectively. Looking at my three most-used apps, Instagram, Snapchat and Spotify (it’s now obvious what age bracket I’m in!) my experience on all of them, which involves streaming, downloading and sending data instantaneously will be drastically improved by the advent of 5G.

With 90 per cent of publishers funded via adverts rather than paywalls, in order to make any money, they are increasingly loading huge numbers of scripts in order to squeeze every bit of revenue out of the page impression; the consequence of which is, as I’m sure you are all only too aware, sites often have huge page load time. The increased speeds offered by 5G should provide a solution to this.

Or so they would have us believe.

For there are in fact three limiting factors that mean – in particular for followers of Byron Sharp, who’s book I have recently started – 5G won’t be something taking up too much headspace for marketers and consumers alike any time soon. Let’s take a look at these.

Processing chips
The first limiting factor is the handset you’re using. For while many people think that bandwidth is the limiting factor for the speed of your phone, it is in fact the processing chip that limits its speed.

That’s not to say that browsing speeds won’t be greatly helped by 5G. In theory, it’s believed that 5G will boost the current 4G speeds of around 100mbps to upwards of 10Gbps; to put that into context, the average home broadband speed is around 24mbps. The 5G that has been promised to us should hypothetically make streaming videos and sending messages up to 100X faster. In practice, however, things are quite different. EE has stated that, on average, the initial users of 5G will achieve speeds of around 150-200mbps, a far cry from the fantasised 10Gbps, and the key limiting factor is – you guessed it – the processing power of the chip in your handset. The 5G can only go as fast as the processing chip will allow it to.

My local cricket club recently bought a brand spanking new 70-inch TV, so that we could watch the World Cup, and going forward The Ashes, in glorious HD. We don’t have a Sky box, but have a small computer plugged into the TV with a Sky Go account. Full of excitement, we hit full screen mode, only to be left disappointed as the picture stuttered like a nervous teenager on his first date.

Alas, the computer’s graphic chip wasn’t powerful enough for the 70-inch screen; in fact, we’d have been better off with a 40-inch model. Currently, all of the 5G-ready phones available to buy in the UK use the same Snapdragon 855 chip. TechRadar ran GeekBench – a cross-platform processor scorer – on the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G (the most expensive 5G phone at £1,099) and a multi-core score of 11,042 was recorded. To put that in context, Apple’s non-5G A12 chip scored 11,465 in the same test, so you can see the problem. With the time it’s taken for handsets to adapt their processors just to accommodate 5G, it’s easy to imagine that in two years’ time, we’ll still be waiting for 5G handsets to reach their ‘speed potential’.

Handsets, and the two year contracts they are driving
This brings me to my next point, the rise of the 24-month contract. Fuelled by the increasing cost of handsets, lack of customer loyalty and the ever-decreasing price of data, telecoms companies have tied much of the high-end handset market into two-year contracts. This effectively means that only one eighth of customers renew their handsets each quarter.

Not every customer is going to immediately upgrade their phone to a 5G handset, meaning that the initial number of people being exposed to 5G in the short term is going to be rather minimal. BT’s EE subsidiary was the first to roll out the service in the UK, with the lowest price deal at £54 a month plus a one-off £170 fee. Let’s face it, unless you have the money burning a hole in your pocket and a desire to download films a tiny bit faster, very few people will be prepared to pay for two handsets and contracts just to access 5G.

It’s worth also considering that there are only two 5G handsets currently available, with Apple’s not due anytime soon.

5G infrastructure is not there yet
My third, and perhaps most important point, is that there simply isn’t sufficient 5G infrastructure to support a large enough audience to effectively and efficiently target. EE has introduced it to six UK cities – London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester. Along with Vodafone and soon Three, there are plans for the service to cover 16 UK cities by the end of the year, but even in these urban areas, the connectivity is unreliable and at times non-existent, so customers are likely to revert to the slower 4G connection instead.

Returning to Byron Sharp’s strategy of ‘mass marketing’, it’s much more effective and efficient to target as much of the population as possible, not just a few wealthy, tech-orientated city dwellers. With such limited coverage, and so few people using it, I believe that there is little point in using 5G in your marketing campaigns – for the short and medium term, at least.

There’s no doubt that working to its full potential, 5G will have a drastic impact on your marketing campaigns. I’m dubious, however, with the speed at which it is rolling out at the moment, that it will reach its potential before 2021; and I suspect it’s the same people who were selling you VR last summer that are probably selling you 5G this summer – and we all know what stage VR is at.

So, returning to the Telco slugfest, whilst EE and Three battle it out over who offers a ‘real’ next-generation 5G service, the truth is, right now, neither of them do.