How Retailers Can Lay the Groundwork for 5G Applications Now
By: Ernest Sampera on August 5, 2020
Few innovations have received more attention in recent years than 5G wireless technology. Despite this, there are still many misconceptions about how 5G technology works and how 5G applications will actually benefit consumers and companies. For many retailers, understanding the benefits of 5G applications is critically important because they have the potential to make a major impact on their business.
How 5G Technology Works
In order to understand why 5G technology is so groundbreaking, it’s important to explain how existing 4G LTE cellular technology works. Cellular networks transmit data over different frequency bands in the same way that a radio station broadcasts a signal over a specific frequency channel. Different frequencies transmit data at different speeds and have different characteristics.
Current cellular technology is only capable of transmitting data over the low-frequency band of the spectrum. On the plus side, these signals cover a broad area and high penetration ability, allowing them to be picked up inside buildings. On the downside, they can’t transmit a lot of data quickly (only about 100 Mbps under ideal conditions) and there are currently so many wireless devices in use that the airwaves are crowded, resulting in sluggish performance.
The key innovation of 5G technology is its ability to broadcast over the mid-band and high-band frequencies in addition to low band. While higher band frequencies sacrifice coverage and penetration for speed, the speed gains are substantial. High-band transmissions are capable of achieving speeds as great as 10Gbps with minimal latency. This ability to transmit massive amounts of data at blindingly fast speeds will allow companies to deploy sophisticated Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and use a variety of new technologies that were simply not practical under the existing network infrastructure.
Three 5G Applications That Could be Vital to Retailers
1. Personalized Shopping
One of the ways that physical retail stores may be able to compete with the growing online marketplace is through delivering a superior in-store customer experience. There has long been talk about using technology like smartphones, RFID tags, and IoT sensors to improve the shopping experience, but technical limitations have held back their potential. With 5G applications, many of the challenges associated with bandwidth and latency are no longer relevant. The 5G-enabled store of the future could use RFID tags to identify what people are purchasing and suggest complementary items to go with them. Data collection tools could also build detailed trends about customer behavior and desires. Online retailers already follow up with customers based on their search history, but a 5G-enabled store could notify someone when the item they looked at for several minutes two weeks ago goes on sale.
2. Smart Inventory Systems
No one likes to walk into a store and discover that the item they’re looking for is out of stock. Even in stores that have relatively sophisticated ordering systems, it can sometimes be difficult for them to determine exactly when new products will be arriving or where they may be located at the moment. By embedding IoT sensors throughout the store and the supply chain, retailers can gain a much more accurate view of their inventory. These 5G applications will make it easier to keep products on the shelves and provide information to customers that will keep them satisfied and coming back. These smart inventory systems will add huge amounts of data to existing networks, and 5G technology will be essential for helping that data move swiftly and seamlessly through the system.
3. Augmented Reality Experiences
While augmented reality (AR) has already seen some applications in the retail space, the full potential of this technology will not be fully realized without the adoption of 5G infrastructure. While virtual reality places users in a completely virtual world, AR instead overlays digital elements over the physical world. While most AR technology uses smartphone applications, an AR-enabled store with a powerful 5G network could also hand out specialized glasses to customers that would add digital elements to their shopping experience. The reduced latency and superior bandwidth of 5G technology could open the door to tremendous AR innovation for retailers, allowing them to interact with customers in new and exciting ways.
Building Tomorrow's 5G Applications and Infrastructure Today
The challenge, of course, will be building the infrastructure necessary to support this new technology. For many retailers, the first step will be waiting for their ISP and cellular providers to build out 5G capacity in their local market. Cellular carriers have been rolling the technology out to various extents since 2018, but progress has been slow, especially with the coronavirus pandemic creating a variety of difficulties.
Once that infrastructure is in place, however, retailers will need to make a commitment to 5G by investing in new equipment capable of using it. Most existing cellular and wireless technology lacks the hardware necessary to transmit and receive mid and high-range frequency signals. Attention to detail will be important here as some carriers are advertising services and equipment that sounds like 5G, but doesn’t actually use true 5G technology (like AT&T’s 5G E, which is really just a faster version of its 4G LTE network). Apart from new equipment, retailers will also need to think about how they can deploy a new generation of applications that can take advantage of the high speed, low latency performance offered by 5G networks.
Finding the Right Data Center for Your 5G Retail Network
With 5G creating the potential for so much more data flooding through retail networks, it’s more critical than ever for them to find a data center with the infrastructure and connectivity capable of handling this new technology. An ideal facility will leverage edge computing strategies to minimize latency and ensure that the data center doesn’t become a bottleneck within a retail network.