Charles Duncombe, Holidays Please marketing director examines implications for travel industry
It is clear that 3G and 4G enabled mobile phones have been a big driver in the sharp increase of internet use on mobile phones and the continuing growth of “m-commerce”.
The next iteration is 5G which operates at higher radio frequencies offers the chance for much quicker internet speeds:-
|Generation||Internet speeds offered|
|3G||Typically around 0.5 MB per second|
|4G||Theoretically 100 MB but typically about 4MB per second|
|5G||Theoretically up to 5000 MB per second|
So no longer would travel companies need to worry about throttling back rich media for mobile devices. HD videos, 3D/virtual reality images and 4K images would now only be limited by the pixels on the mobile screen and the processor of the phone. This offers a tremendous opportunity for companies to give a truly immersive experience for customers looking to book a holiday and also for existing customers getting ready for their trip or returning from it.
To put it in perspective, downloading an HD movie on 4G can take over 10 minutes but with 5G you could do it in under 10 seconds. It means for the first time, mobile phones could be operating at faster speeds than home broadband (including fibre).
As well as faster bandwidth, 5G also offers lower latency rates. Latency is effectively the time delay it takes for the mobile device to react. 5G devices can respond in as little as one millisecond compared to 40-65 milliseconds for 3G and 4G. While it doesn’t seem like much it would allow much smoother real-time interactions, such as live chat, instant messaging and VOIP/video calls. It could also be the key that unlocks the “Internet of things” where devices from fridges to cars can communicate with each other in real-time.
Within the travel industry we could find high street travel agencies using interactive displays to communicate with the phones of people in their stores in real-time. Or airlines at airports using infrastructure at check-in and boarding gates to enhance the customer experience and to speed up the boarding process.
When can we expect 5G to become mainstream?
The bad news is that as 5G is a short distance radio frequency it is unlikely to become mainstream for some time as a lot of infrastructure needs to be put in place first. 5G does not carry over the same distance as 3G or 4G frequencies and so you need a lot more masts. Although these masts can be much smaller and could even be incorporated into existing infrastructure such as street lamps.
In 2019 we should see fledgling 5G networks in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester. The commercial model (ie increased revenue from higher data consumption), will then dictate the speed at which it is rolled out into smaller cities, towns and rural areas.
Even if some 5G networks go live in 2019 you will need to have a 5G compatible handset to use them. These handsets are only going to go on sale towards the end of 2019 and widespread adoption may only really take place from 2020 – 2023 as people upgrade their handsets. Apple say that they are likely to be launching their first 5G iPhone in 2020 at the earliest.
And it’s not going to be cheap. 5G handsets are going to be premium handsets with a premium price tag. The data bundles are also going to be expensive in order to recoup the £1.3bn+ invested so far in the spectrum auctions.
Adoption may also be hit by any negative press at launch with horror stories of people eating through their data allowances in seconds and minutes rather than days and weeks.
Longer term though, prices will come down as R&D costs are recouped and the way the 5G spectrum works means that more “virtual” mobile phone networks can be set up, which could increase competition and lower prices. Adoption is then likely to rise.
So it’s going to take time, but when you combine it with other mobile phone advances coming on stream such as foldable phones, you can see future where people on phones will access the internet many times quicker than they can on their PC/laptop and that it will be on a screen size that offers a very comparable web experience to a tablet or laptop. This is when m-commerce really will feel 5G acceleration forces.