Faster connections, without Wi-Fi shackles, will reinvent our relationship with technology


Over the past couple of weeks, the airwaves have been flooded with news regarding the ongoing U.S. ban of Chinese telecom giant and 5G pioneer Huawei. While the current ban might have slowed down the implementation of 5G in the U.S. slightly for now, it is only a matter of time before the blazing-fast next-gen networks begin to roll out.

5G is set to be one of the most game-changing technological advancements of the decade. With speeds up to 100x faster than 4G it will make ultra-high-speed internet – measurably faster than most current Wi-Fi networks – available over the airwaves.

To put that into perspective, downloading a 2-hour film on a 4G network now takes about 6 minutes. On a 5G network, that time will be cut down to a mere 3.6 seconds. While this will be nice for browsing the internet on your cell phone, the implications are much, much bigger.

The ultra-fast connection speeds will open the doors to mass implementation of technologies for applications that never seemed possible, in places that never seemed possible. Devices connected over the Internet-of-Things (IoT) already outnumber humans on the planet 4-to-1, and that number is set to grow exponentially with 5G unchaining IoT hardware from the shackles of Wi-Fi range limitations. Last year, nearly 54,000 standard essential patents were filed for 5G-related technologies, so if you think the world is full of smart technology now, just wait a couple of years.

So, what does that mean for retail? Disruption is inevitable. With 5G increasing the connect-ability, visibility and capability of technology, change will be felt everywhere, including manufacturing, the supply chain, logistics, the shopper experience and the insights we extract from it.

Starting with manufacturing, 5G technology will help companies boost efficiency and quality control like never before. Enhanced sensors will be able to send and receive large amounts of data in a heartbeat, enabling precise split-second adjustments in the manufacturing line. In food and beverage, this could help prevent contaminations and recalls. In CPG, it could detect defects and prevent bottlenecks in the production line.

In the supply chain, IoT (Internet-of-Things) -connected technologies will have much greater capacity to send and receive data. This means automated packing, sorting and warehousing equipment could handle more elaborate tasks, enabling more automation and decreasing the need for human labor. Autonomously-operated warehousing operations, like that used by British grocer Ocado, will become more commonplace as the capability to perform more complex jobs increases.

Autonomous vehicles, which require a continuous stream of data, will see a boon from 5G. That includes not only self-driving cars, but drones, agricultural equipment, and larger vehicles used for freight transport. The push for faster last-mile logistics in the retail space is already pressing the need for automated transportation options like drones and self-driving delivery vehicles, and with billions of dollars at stake, the potential for innovative new companies to rise is virtually limitless.

Once those goods actually hit the shelves, 5G has the potential for massive impact on the shopper experience, as well. 5G will make cashier-less stores like Amazon Go stores much more commonplace. Recently, at the Mobile World Congress event in February, Intel demonstrated how a company could build an Amazon Go-like pop-up store at any event (conferences, concerts, sporting events, etc.) using 5G. Without the need for laying infrastructure like fiber optic cable, the store is able to use a combination of 5G and battery-powered cameras to track what shoppers take. They simply scan their mobile device to enter, pick what they want, walk out and get charged automatically.

Point of purchase displays like Cooler Screens and Microsoft Edge Smart Shelves will be able to transmit larger data packets with real-time insights, helping advertisers to better target their customers and personalize their advertising efforts. With the ability to transmit large amounts of data in an instant, imagine the potential of these technologies with facial recognition, AI and machine learning driving the PoP advertising bus in real-time. It’s like something straight out of Minority Report.

5G has the potential to revolutionize the retail experience from top to bottom. In 5 years, you can expect to see a very different world, powered by blazing-fast internet speeds and new connected technologies, no longer limited by the constraints of Wi-Fi, at every turn.

What do you think about the potential for 5G technologies in the retail environment? Which area do you think has the most potential for growth? We’d love to hear what you think. Sound off on social media now and join the conversation.