5G for retailers: What businesses need to know

November 19, 20195 minute read

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The first wave of 5G infrastructure and compatible devices is now arriving, and with it, an enormous increase in the possible speed and reliability of wireless communication. 5G supports high speeds, longer battery life, smaller sensors, and lower latency. All the devices built to operate on 5G and touted as transformative will soon be usable, and the effects will be felt in numerous facets of life and industry.

5G for retailers will have a major impact and help them deliver more immersive, personalized, dynamic, convenient experiences to their consumers. It isn’t simply a step up from 4G wireless infrastructure—it’s the next big disruptor on the retail horizon, according to InformationWeek, and will change the way people shop. Here’s what to expect from 5G that will reinvent the consumer experience.

Better mobile experience

With 5G for retailers, rapid speeds and low latency will open up a whole new world of innovation. Consumers will be able to make remote purchases from their phones quickly and more seamlessly. As Statista notes, the number of mobile shoppers in the US substantially increases every year, surpassing 100 million in 2018. With 5G, retailers can offer better, more interactive mobile shopping experiences.

Increased Speed

Expectations for 5G are high, with anticipated speeds up to 100 times faster than 4G and low to zero latency, as Pinnacle Digest reports. 5G speeds will vary across locations, countries, carriers and devices, but it is expected to reach speeds of 10 gigabytes per second, with only 10 milliseconds of latency. As InformationWeek notes, in contrast, 4G LTE only offers peak download speeds of 300 megabytes per second with 100 milliseconds of latency. Faster speeds will make online and in-store shopping easier by providing more immediate access to the information consumers need.


With 5G, retailers can deliver more personalized experiences that lead to higher customer satisfaction, and a higher likelihood of conversion. One innovative example is personalized digital signage. Today’s shoppers—and millennials in particular—crave personalization. If a digital sign delivers a real-time, personalized ad and displays personalized content, that consumer will have a better experience.

IoT technologies also make it possible for retailers to deliver omnichannel experiences that blend online and offline shopping. For instance, if a shopper was searching online for a pair of sunglasses and enters a physical store, a sensor can detect their presence and the retailer can send a personalized coupon for that item when they arrive. Thanks to the forecasted speed and ubiquity of 5G, IoT will be far more reliable, too. As McKinsey estimates, IoT in retail environments could have an impact of $410 billion to $1.2 trillion per year by 2025.

AR/VR Capabilities

Augmented and virtual reality are also major opportunities. Consumers using 5G smartphones could walk into a store and interact with products via AR or VR. Someone trying to buy a tennis racket or hiking boots could scan an item in store for more in-depth information, as well as reviews and social content from friends. In addition, AR can virtually expand a store’s inventory with virtual shelves, showcasing items that are for sale but may not be present in-store at that moment. Finally, with virtual reality enabled by 5G, retailers can create virtual dressing rooms where customers try items on without having to actually undress, which adds friction to the process.

5G challenges and concerns

Any major technological shift poses concerns, and many may feel wary of the security of a wireless infrastructure and implementation. Many retailers are wondering whether they will have to make significant investments to upgrade from the current generation. As Pinnacle Digest notes, high cost is the top concern retailers have about 5G—but it’s an investment in the future. Within a few years, operating costs of 5G will be less than broadband, and those investments can be recouped from revenue growth.

Another top concern is the security of 5G for retailers. As with any new technology, 5G will usher in more device types and actors, as well as a greater use of the cloud and virtualization. According to a report from SIMalliance, this will lead to more security threats and a greatly increased attack surface. The more devices there are on a network, the more opportunities there are for hackers to find and exploit vulnerabilities.

Retailers can protect themselves by implementing more advanced authentication protocols. Businesses need to make sure that their security goes across layers and from end to end. The communication paths between users and the core network have to be secure, but the distribution of 5G networks can make this a challenge. To reduce risk, retailers should look for devices with built-in security features and service providers, such as HP’s Managed Print Service solutions, which securely and conveniently transmit information over 5G infrastructure.

The internet has made retail more competitive than ever before, allowing consumers to buy almost anything from anywhere. By embracing 5G and taking the proper security precautions, retailers can set themselves up for success now and into the future.

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