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Why 5G Isn’t The Retail Saviour

Why 5G Isn’t The Retail Saviour

With new tech comes renewed optimism and new claims - some substantiated, most hype. Such is the case with the emergence of 5G technology. For example, according to an article by netimperative, upwards of 10,000 jobs were lost in the retail sector in the UK alone, with online shopping being pegged as the main cause. Thus, “British executives hope 5G will allow retailers to use AR/VR to enhance the customer experience, while improving stock efficiencies and eliminating queues at the checkouts”, which will hopefully in turn bring consumers back to the brick and mortar shops.

Unfortunately, this wishful optimism that 5G is going to save the High Street shows little substance to its claims. It’s a classic example of so-called “experts” not understanding how technology works and touting false claims to up their investments.

What is 5G anyway?

5G is essentially just the fifth generation, or incarnation, of wireless technology. One could almost compare it to how video consoles have grown in graphical complexity from Atari to Playstation 5. Each generation offers more Internet connection speed to your device than the last, allowing faster and more numerous streaming of file uploads and downloads, better graphical resolution and overall upgraded connectivity.

5G promises to bring speeds of around 10 gigabits per second to your device; more than 600 times faster than the typical 4G speeds on today’s mobile phones, fast enough to download a 4K high-definition movie in under 30 seconds, or to stream several at the same time. But speed is not a technological advancement. Just because you can bake a cake faster, that doesn’t mean it will taste better. However, some “experts” assert different.

The False Claims

Scott Morey, executive director at Altus Group, was recently quoted as saying, “Shoppers fundamentally rely on stores during various stages of their shopping journey and 5G has the potential to further improve that interaction. (It) presents a great opportunity for retailers to further improve the underlying performance of their physical stores by transforming the customer experience and shifting the role of their store personnel towards higher value tasks.” So it seems that Altus stands behind this agenda/claim. But they and others don’t, and can’t, substantiate it.

In fact, these claims that 5G would increase VR/AR are groundless. The existing headsets could easily make use of 5ghz Wi-Fi, which would provide ample enough speed for such an experience. The real blocker for VR/AR comes from the companies themselves and the developers of the apps/games which run on them. Despite its potential and current state (it truly does offer some spectacular immersive experiences), for some reason VR/AR has not caught on with the consumer masses as anticipated. This is causing many developers to shy away from large expenditures in the R&D, product deployment and marketing fields. So just because you can get Hellboy quicker, it certainly won’t make that movie any better.

Admittedly, it’s hard to say if Altus group et al. advisors are making this assertion or whether it’s wishful thinking expressed by British execs. Both are really only guilty of flailing optimism. But nevertheless, the fact that the absurdity of such a claim has not been brought into question is truly puzzling for those that actually understand and develop tech, and this is an unfair expectation thrust into the laps and minds of the struggling retail workforce.


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