THE FIRST GENERATION of wireless technology—1G—helped make cellphones possible. Those cellphones turned into smartphones as we moved to 2G, 3G, and 4G. Now we’re at the beginning of the 5G era and can expect yet another major shift in the technologies that shape our lives.
Today we can only glimpse what is possible with 5G. It’s expected to bring about innovations that we haven’t even thought of yet in the same way that streaming a movie or arranging for a car to pick you up with a few finger taps would have been hard to imagine in the days of flip phones. Streaming apps and ride-sharing apps became possible with 4G, which enabled mobile devices to handle much more complex tasks quickly and efficiently when not connected to Wi-Fi.
Similarly, 5G will jump-start transformative technologies, some of which will power the hospitality industry of the future. It will impact timeshare resorts even before owners step foot in them and throughout a guest’s stay by helping make virtual or enhanced reality tours, smart in-room systems, and gestural interfaces both possible and practical.
What is 5G?
Devices receive wireless internet in two main ways: through Wi-Fi or a mobile broadband network. A Wi-Fi connection depends on a wireless router to create hot spots of internet, which devices can then connect to. Mobile broadband networks—such as 5G—are created by cellular towers and don’t require a wireless router. (5G should not be confused with 5 GHz, a Wi-Fi connection that transmits data on a 5 GHz frequency band.)
The main difference between 4G and 5G is that 5G will be a full order of magnitude faster than 4G. Qualcomm, an American telecommunications company, says 5G will provide upwards of 20 gigabits of data per second, compared with the one or two gigabits of data per second available now. Users will be able to download large files—such as a full movie—in two or three seconds.
“Increasing speeds for mobile devices are lowering the last few barriers preventing people from untethering from their computers,” says Mike Curro, vice president of global e-commerce and digital marketing for RCI Exchanges. “This has profound implications for all industries, particularly retail, media, and travel. As it relates to timeshare, it will empower salespeople to leverage the entire property to be their sales floor.”
Why does 5G matter?
For now, users will continue to switch between Wi-Fi and mobile broadband. But 5G will be important for travelers, who often rely on mobile broadband to pull up Google Maps, Yelp, and TripAdvisor while on the go. True, travelers may prefer stopping at cafés to use Wi-Fi, especially to avoid roaming charges when abroad. But overall, users are spending less time on Wi-Fi in favor of mobile broadband. That’s partly because unlimited data plans have become more common—and sometimes now include Mexico and Canada, relieving concerns about roaming fees.
The four major U.S. carriers—AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile—have all seen the time that users spend on Wi-Fi fall, according to data published in April 2018 by OpenSignal, which specializes in wireless-coverage mapping. That’s no surprise when you think about how much more convenient it is to connect to mobile broadband when on the go; after all, the map you pulled up in a café won’t automatically update after a wrong turn.
5G won’t be universally available right away, so resorts that want to stay ahead of the curve should keep up-to-date on its progress. Patrick Dunphy, CIO of trade association Hotel Technology Next Generation, cautions: “Most devices that come out in the next two years using 5G aren’t going to get near [the full] amount of bandwidth.”
Qualcomm predicts that by 2035, 5G will create 22 million jobs and $12.3 trillion worth of goods and services—and that its contribution to real global GDP growth will be equal to India’s (the world’s seventh-largest economy). The plan is to begin 5G’s commercial rollout in 2019, with 5G smartphones appearing in the first half of the year.
What will 5G do?
When 5G arrives, it will become a platform to reshape and enhance a lot of what we do online now. Although we can envision the trajectory of some of these changes, many are too far off to make out. More speed and more power mean that more things are possible, and some of those future innovations are not yet conceivable.
“You can think of 5G not just as what 4G and 3G pro-vided us with—what we call mobile broadband. It will do that, but it will also expand to new industries and new use cases, to new business models,” says Danny Tseng, staff manager of technical marketing at Qualcomm. “We call it a unified connectivity fabric: a technology that connects virtually everything around, that’s efficient and scalable.”
In other words, 5G isn’t just faster internet. It will spur on innovation and act as a foundation for turning technologies that are just beginning to be developed—such as enhanced reality systems—into a normal part of our lives, because 5G devices will be better able to handle them.
“When people think of 5G, they think of how fast it is. They think about what capacity it’s going to bring,” Tseng says. “But I think there’s a lot more to that: It’s going to shift the entire paradigm of mobile.”
ENHANCED MOBILE BROADBAND: 5G will equip mobile devices to handle more data more quickly. “Faster band-width is going to be instrumental in moving hospitality services away from the front desk and will give resorts new models to serve their guests,” Curro says. “It is particularly valuable for large resorts and properties. Guests will benefit from having access to services that in the past were difficult to provide with lower bandwidth speeds.”
MISSION-CRITICAL SERVICES: 5G will reduce latency—the round-trip time it takes for a device and a server to talk—to one millisecond and increase reliability. These improvements open the door to new precision command-and-control services in the robotics and automotive industries, among others. For example, you can’t have any lag time if you’re performing remote surgery with a robotic arm; 5G will also allow autonomous cars to communicate directly with one another, to avoid accidents.
MASSIVE INTERNET OF THINGS (IOT): Faster internet connection and reduced latency will prove a catalyst for IoT, or the embedding of interconnectivity into everyday objects. Resorts are already beginning to experiment with smart lights and temperature controls, as well as voice-activated devices and enhanced reality systems, which can be mixed with IoT. If a guest tells the lights to turn on over 5G, they might switch on in half a second or less, instead of taking five or seven seconds. “5G is going to make for a very streamlined guest experience, which I think is where a lot of hotel companies would like to go in the long run,” Dunphy says.
Resorts that want to one day offer high-speed connectivity to their owners—much less incorporate IoT, enhanced reality systems, hyperpersonalization, and other technologies that are on the verge of becoming mainstream into their offerings—will find 5G essential. As Curro puts it: “5G will continue to revolutionize the ability of staff members or resorts to provide hospitality services wherever and whenever a guest needs them.”
When it comes to resorts of the future, 5G gets us closer to staying in a Jetsons-like experience. “5G technology reduces the costs involved to the point that resorts can be a lot more experimental,” Curro says. “The room of the future really depends on bright and creative people having the opportunity to experiment with different models of service. Whether it’s voice control, embedded touch screens, or something else, the most important factor is the ability of resorts to manage the connectivity easily and with less cost.”
What the next decade will bring, and just how far the hospitality industry will push 5G (or vice versa), is unknown at this early stage, although the possibilities are tantalizing. What is clear: 5G will provide a foundation to build tomorrow’s high-tech resorts.
Illustration by Pepe Serra