Over the next five years, a new generation of mobile technology will emerge that will change how people use their smartphones.
Hotels, in particular, will end up in the front lines of this shift. What if hotel guests can simply download any movie they want to their smartphone in a few seconds, and view it on the screen in their room, without using hotel Wi-Fi? What if meeting attendees can participate in a high-definition video meeting powered by a mobile data network?
5G New Radio will debut in the next year or two, giving consumers the ability to download at speeds up to 10 gigabytes per second; current 4G LTE connections can download about 50 megabytes per second at their peak.
The increased speed of data connections will also enhance many other aspects of the mobile experience.
“The communications technology is important, but what is also important is what comes along with that,” said Keith Kressin, senior vice president of product management at Qualcomm Technologies, during a panel at CES 2018 in Las Vegas this week. “With every jump in connectivity, there is a jump in computing; more artificial intelligence and immersion, remote computing with very low latency… there are a lot of companies putting a lot of work in to meet this 10 year cadence of infrastructure [development].”
Kressin said Qualcomm, which provides most of the chipsets for premiere smartphones, will have 5G-enabled chips ready in 2019 for the first emergence of widespread 5G connectivity in 2020.
Smartphone manufacturers think the shift will also usher in a new era for cloud-based computing and services powered by artificial intelligence.
“We look a lot at the use cases,” said Justin Denison, senior vice president of product marketing at Samsung Electronics America. “Now you can have everything around you connected to the network with really quick latency and, in certain cases when you really want it, explosive bandwidth… when we get to this foundational change of 5G it allows this low latency instant interaction with the cloud. Now you can use intelligent agents on a single unified cloud, bringing intelligence not just to the device [but the cloud].”
The implications of this technology for travel and hospitality are immense. Hotels, in particular, have the opportunity to provide extra value to guests by providing 5G mobile connectivity in their properties. The problem with 5G when compared to 4G and 3G, however, is that its range is extremely limited due to the nature of the technology.
The Promise for Hotels
Regardless of the range limitations, the debut of 5G mobile will have a huge impact on consumers. Being able to download a full movie in three seconds, or video chat with perfect clarity, has the potential to be transformative. And early adopters will crave the ability to use a 5G network not only at home or the office.
This represents a huge opportunity for hotels willing to invest in the technology. Since the first iteration of 5G will be more akin to Wi-Fi than traditional mobile signals, hotels can wire each of their guest rooms, meeting spaces, and common areas to create a huge differentiator from their peers.
Early adopters and tech-savvy companies will be more likely to stay and meet at hotels that embrace this technology, and the move away from costly and slow Wi-Fi will be a welcome change. And the existing Wi-Fi networks will become less congested, providing a better experience to those who use them for their laptops and tablets.
While hotels will be at the mercy of their local internet providers, particularly when it comes to access to a fiber optic connection, the investment will be worth it for some during the initial rollout of 5G.
Marriott International and Hilton Hotels & Resorts are among the first major hotel chains experimenting with concepts for connected rooms. Marriott is betting that guests will want voice-control options in their room, while Hilton will provide that digital experience through their Hilton Honors app.
It’s unclear at the moment what effect this could have on a hotel’s behind-the-scenes technology stack, which operates in a closed environment compared to consumer technology. But as more sensors and devices operating in the internet of things emerge, hotels can leverage these tools more effectively if equipped to handle 5G. As smart speakers and other artificial intelligence-powered devices become more commonplace, a 5G network will help shoulder the burden of the increased need for bandwidth.
This investment in the next few years can also help futureproof a hotel’s guest-facing technology as this generation of mobile technology continues to evolve.
How 5G Works
Mobile data technology tends to move in 10-year increments, and 5G is no exception. The technology that will power 5G data connections, however, differs from previous mobile technology in an important way.
If you remember high school physics class, the lower the frequency of a wave, the longer it tends to travel (please keep reading). This is why 3G and 4G mobile is powered by cellular towers; the waves travel quite far, so one tower can provide coverage to a large area.
5G, however, will operate at an extremely high frequency to deliver super fast data speeds. The signal itself, therefore, will only be able to travel a much shorter distance in the technology’s current form.
Instead of towers, 5G will initially operate using access points in homes and buildings in a manner more similar to Wi-Fi. The upside of this method is that many devices will be able to access data at high speeds. The downside is that the range of the signal will be extremely limited and need a fiber optic connection to function.
For this reason, 5G will likely first become prominent in dense cities that can be packed with these transmitters. Phones will have both 4G and 5G capability once 5G debuts, because most places simply won’t have access to the 5G bands. There are also issues in the U.S. with respect to the Federal Communications Commission allowing mobile phones to use the broadcast bands they need for 5G.