5G hype vs reality: how marketing must steer the conversation

September 24, 2020

News & Trends

In the world of telecoms, if you’re not talking about the impact of COVID-19 on cloud adoption and service delivery, you’re probably talking about 5G. However, for every proponent claiming that 5G is here, there’s a sceptic suggesting the industry must navigate several challenges before it can deliver on the promise of 5G deployments.

When it comes to the future of 5G, then, we’ve become locked in a fierce battle of hype vs reality.

How 5G is being used today

5G, with its highly vaunted benefits that are best encapsulated as low latency/high speed connectivity and greater network capacity, is expected to enable a raft of new value-added use cases. The most anticipated of these is the Internet of Things (IoT), which will likely have a transformative effect on almost every industry, creating a smarter and better-connected world. In fact, the GSMA predicts that there will be more than 24.6 billion connected devices by 2025.

In 2020, several 5G use cases have caught the public imagination due to the vital role they have played in the global pandemic. Consider, for example, the deployment of 5G-powered robots in Wuhan to disinfect medical facilities without putting humans in harm’s way. Or Coventry University in the UK, which recently announced it will deliver interactive lessons in virtual reality (VR) this academic year to get around restrictions on physical classes.

These use cases demonstrate what could soon be possible at scale thanks to 5G. But, with examples like this already in place, why is 5G not a widespread reality today? Why are the world’s operators not rolling out 5G networks as their top priority? And, is 5G still a case of hype as opposed to reality?

Picking apart the hype from the reality

The first hurdle for widespread 5G adoption is the killer use case. We hear from industry experts everywhere that 3G and 4G networks are more than enough to deliver on the vast majority of IoT services in use. And we are still years away from the massive connected ecosystems that smart cities will require, for example, which will need networks to support an exponentially greater number of high-bandwidth and low-latency devices than already exist.

The second hurdle is the difficulties associated with widespread network rollout. Only about 40 countries have completed 5G spectrum auctions, which means that any use case today needs to be a hybrid. Needing more towers that cover a smaller area, 5G network rollout is expensive and complex for mobile operators, even where auctions have been completed and spectrum allocated.

Enter stopgap solutions like non-standalone (NSA) 5G networks, which are dependent on a 4G network in order to function. Naturally, initial 5G rollouts have been NSA deployments because they are cheaper and faster to do.

This is fine in certain situations, like a 5G-connected robot running a cleaning routine in a hospital, as it delivers on the speed and network congestion mitigation benefits that the 5G hype has promised. But what about other 5G-enabled use cases that have been touted in the headlines in recent years?

Mission-critical applications such as connected medicine and other highly demanding use cases are different. They require consistent, high quality throughput on both the up and downlink – i.e., they won’t be well served by NSA 5G as there is no margin for error when it’s a connected health device.

Industry experts opine that 5G cannot reach its potential without standalone (SA) networks. Equally, albeit in a far less mission-critical environment, this type of deployment is also essential to make other high data throughput use cases like interactive learning a reality.

5G SA and demonstrating the commercial reality

Granted, these network rollouts are already underway. Coventry University called on Vodafone to take advantage of its commercial standalone 5G network, which is the first of its kind in the UK. But, the physical connectivity side of things is just one – albeit one very important – piece of the puzzle in the move towards a hyper-connected future that’s built on 5G reality.

To get us there, we are also going to need telecoms vendors who can join the dots and can provide the connectivity glue, including cloud and edge computing capabilities, in order to support the overall delivery of 5G SA use cases. Also, to mitigate what will become common issues in the early stages of commercial 5G adoption, such as preventing mission-critical IoT-enabled devices from experiencing a drop in data transfer performance when they roam off 5G networks.

Joining the dots from a marketing perspective

So, what role should content marketing play in this complex environment?

Paradoxically, it needs to help alleviate the hype rhetoric by demonstrating how enterprises can tap into what will be truly possible with 5G connectivity. Hype does not help with adoption: enterprises want to invest in technology that is proven, and are more likely to delay their investment until the ‘plateau of productivity’ stage of the Hype Cycle.

The most effective content strategy, then, is to engage with pragmatic, helpful content that reflects the market realities and pain points of prospects. In terms of content types and deliverables: use cases, case studies, FAQs, myth vs fact articles, pragmatic and application-oriented thought leadership, and interaction with prospects via webinars and virtual events, are being received well.

We’re experiencing this time and time again in our work with BICS and other major players in the telecoms arena. And it ultimately comes down to education. Not only in terms of identifying, productising, and promoting what will become the truly killer use cases for 5G, but also having the right approach in place to sales enablement so that once leads are acquired they can be converted by the sales team quickly and reliably, and importantly, at scale.

If you would like to discuss how Isoline can help in developing and implementing a content marketing campaign that will help you in achieving this, drop us a line: [email protected].


Photo by Jack Sloop on Unsplash

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