As if marketing telecom products have ever been simple, the rollout of fifth generation wireless systems (5G) will bring a whole slew of new marking challenges and complexities. 5G will greatly enhance data speeds, reduce dreaded lag times, provide more reliable mobility connections and overall, improve bandwidth.

This will all happen by combining cutting edge network technology that is multitudes faster than the current 4G state, with average download speeds of around 1 gigabit per second (Gbps). Most estimates indicate 5G data transfer technology will reach 10 Gbps and some think speeds can reach a blistering 800 Gbps. Enhanced networks will also help power the rise in Internet of Things (IoT) technology, providing the infrastructure needed to carry huge amounts of data for a smarter, more connected world.

The impact to consumers will be significant. Here are some examples of how this will likely change our lives technologically:

  • Immersive virtual reality;
  • Real-time television;
  • Security cameras that can see in the dark;
  • Blazing fast speeds for uploads and downloads;
  • Smoother streaming of online content;
  • Higher quality voice and video calling;
  • More reliable mobile connections;
  • Greater number of connected IoT devices – i.e.: Alexa, Google Home;
  • Expansion of advanced technology, including self-driving cars and smart cities; and
  • Better security measures for electronic banking.

This all sounds awesome, so how fast will it happen? Unfortunately, the timeline may be slow at first. Existing smartphones, tablets and other devices that were released with 4G as the standard may not be compatible with 5G at launch. And, even if they are, consumers may have to incur additional costs to convert. After the 2020 deadline, we will see devices with 5G as the default.

But 5G will not replace the current 3G/4G platform at first. It will be made available in some major metro areas in 2018 as announced by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile. Implementing 5G will be a slow process. Think back to the gradual 4G takeover. Infrastructure will likely have to be upgraded or replaced to be 5G compatible. Homes and businesses may need new services installed to keep pace with the platform. As with 4G, users may not be able to immediately connect to new 5G networks without upgrading their tablets, computers and smartphones.

So what will the impact be for companies that will compete for consumers’ attention for wireless, TV and internet services? The media landscape and distribution companies are changing at a rapid pace in advance of 5G. Who would have thought – as recently as three years ago – Netflix would today have surpassed media powerhouses like Disney and Comcast/NBC Universal in overall market value? Netflix and other Over The Top (OTT) streaming providers like Hulu, YouTubeTV, Amazon, Google, Apple and many others are changing the game at a rapid pace as cord-cutters look to save money on rising programming costs by cobbling together OTT programing through high speed internet connection and wireless options.

Over the last year, cable providers Comcast and Charter have launched or announced their own wireless platforms to venture into what will become a new world of content streaming. Content has become the new “gold,” as AT&T just completed its purchase of Time Warner and Disney has acquired Fox after a battle with Comcast. Disney, Comcast and AT&T see content assets as vital to help compete and grow, as streaming has quickly become the way to deliver content when, how and where viewers want it. These purchases by legacy companies will enable them to scale their businesses in a streaming OTT world while building brand influence with consumers.

Wireless companies are also on the offensive. It appears a long-awaited Sprint/T-Mobile deal may finally close in 2019. T-Mobile has already publicly stated they want to be a programming provider, partnering with OTT Layer3TV technology to offer TV on every wirelessly connected device. And, AT&T through its DirectTV brand, has a compelling streaming product offering, while Verizon through its Fios platform, offers TV content via mobile.

With all of these companies competing in sandboxes that once offered only a few choices for consumers, saying, “the stakes will be high in the years to come,” is a massive understatement. Marketers will have tremendous opportunities to help guide consumers to the right choices, but it won’t be easy. As more products are made available by more companies, strategies to retain and grow the customer base will need to be deeply rooted in data to help marketers make intelligent media selections. More media space will also be needed to properly communicate current and new offerings.

The disclaimer section alone has been staggering for many media platforms and will only be longer and more complex for future campaigns. Call centers and online ordering processes will require massive upgrades to help steer new customer leads into the right media packages for their individual needs. Companies that successfully navigate through the complex process of customer offers, then select the best media to drive consumers to those offers will win big. To simplify this process for consumers, the in-store experience will need to smoothly guide consumers along the path to purchase. Cable providers like Comcast and Charter are opening more stores and enhancing the user experience and telecom providers T-Mobile, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, TracPhone, Boost and MetroPCS are doing the same.

Marketing partners that have deep telecom industry roots and have proven to be agile through change will continue to grow. They will be challenged with delivering innovative messaging through online and offline platforms to help telecom and technology companies navigate the new world 5G will deliver. Marketers will choose partners who have experience identifying individuals most likely to stop by the local store to upgrade or subscribe to new services. They will also need to offer creative flexibility, scale, personalization and multi-channel solutions to create awareness and ultimately deliver subscriber growth.