How Three Mobile is convincing people to care about 5G

The coming rollout of 5G telecom tech worldwide presents a classic marketing problem: How do you show the benefits of an infrastructure advancement?

U.K., mobile operator Three Mobile is taking a show-don’t-tell approach, emphasizing what 5G will enable, from immersive experiences to augmented reality to gaming.

The mobile operator is expanding 5G across the U.K. following a limited launch in London last year. By the end of the month, 5G will be available in 68 major cities across the U.K. The mobile operator expects 50% of its traffic in the U.K. to come from its 5G network by the end of 2020. It’s a rapid rollout for Three Mobile that belies how much it has riding on people choosing its 5G network over rivals.

Beyond faster connection speeds and ultra-low latency, 5G paves the way for mobile operators like Three Mobile to become more than the so-called “dumb pipes” that are used by other companies to explore new revenue streams. While those concerns have been exacerbated by the growth of Facebook and Google, mobile networks haven’t felt they’ve had a way to play a more assertive role in mobile communications until the arrival of 5G.

As such, the business is exploring more experiential concepts such as turning certain areas in bars into gaming areas or building more services for the connected home, said Three Mobile’s CMO Shadi Halliwell. Everything from shopping to live events, sports, even healthcare and education are potential opportunities for the mobile operator’s 5G network, said Haliwell, particularly as the mobile operator searches for new revenue streams.

“Today, our business is about device financing but I think that model could become more hardware-focused, whether it’s a games console, surround sound or lighting, with the emergence of the connected home on our 5G network, said Halliwell.

Despite 5G’s potential, many of the immediate use cases for it are in augmented and virtual reality.

In fact, Three has created an AR lens for Instagram to promote its latest campaign, which launches today. The Wieden+Kennedy-created campaign gives people a glimpse into what 5G-powered future looks like, with the creative offering humorous predictions on things like gaming, dating and travel.

“The most immediate future for 5G with consumers is in AR and VR, said Halliwell. “We’re going to be looking at content partnerships around augmented reality and virtual reality.”

Beyond the campaign, Three is already looking to other industries like fashion to flout its 5G credentials. The bandwidth from the mobile operator’s network let attendees to a London Fashion Week event earlier this month see a virtual version of model Adwoa Aboah, through 5G handsets, strut down what appeared to be an otherwise empty catwalk.

Haliwell’s decision to promote the benefits of using a 5G network echo what her rival telco marketers are doing. EE, O2 and Vodafone are all focused on either making 5G tariffs and data plans as attractive as possible or promoting the benefits of the technology to potential customers. Given how new 5G networks are, there’s still a large portion of mobile device users who don’t know enough about the advantages of faster speeds and better performance that come with them to make an informed decision about why they should upgrade to the technology. EE is showing the public how to use 5G from a touring bus that travels the U.K., for example.

Both 3G and 4G moved the needle in terms of mobile advertising, whether it was by connecting mobile devices to the internet or allowing them to share more data. And yet neither network could push mobile advertising beyond traditional advertising formats, said Lawrence Dodds, client director at Universal McCann..

“5G will allow advertisers to become more inventive in how they engage consumers — and they need to as we increasingly employ ad blockers, or simply become blind to banners and the like,” said Dodds.

5G’s potential is huge, but there’s still work to be done before advertisers can reap those rewards. It will likely be several years before the 5G user base becomes large enough for advertisers in part due to the politicization of who provides the technology. In the meantime, advertisers like Three will be in a test-and-learn mode, whereby they demonstrate the potential of emerging ad formats like AR to convince people there’s more to 5G than novelty value.

“Being ready for 5G and understanding what will be possible in preparation for it is essential,” said Mark Melling, head of RYOT and 5G for Verizon Media’s businesses across EMEA. “Marketers need to find partners that understand how 5G will impact content experiences to help them navigate their way forward.”

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