What 5G Could Mean for Events

The drumbeat of hype around 5G is picking up, but it might take awhile for meeting planners to capitalize on the new high-speed network. Here’s what one association that recently hosted some 5G demos at its big event has to say.

When it comes to hyped new technologies, it can be difficult to determine when and where it realistically makes sense for your organization to begin adoption.

5G technology, with its potential to satiate the wireless appetites of both individual users and the increasingly complex infrastructures of events, seems likely in all our futures. But how do you integrate it into your plans?

It’s still  in its early days. Verizon has launched parts of a new 5G network in sections of Chicago and Minneapolis, while AT&T has implemented 5G networks in 19 cities but has no devices that support it just yet. Meanwhile, only a handful of associations, mostly in the technology and telecommunications spaces, have run live demos of 5G technology at their events.

One of those events was CES, the gadget-focused tradeshow produced by the Consumer Technology Association. January’s event featured 5G demos from Qualcomm, Intel, and Verizon, among others. According to CTA, showing emerging tech is just part of what makes CES work.

“As the show organizer, we see immense value in providing a space where companies can come together to showcase how technology will better our lives,” CES Executive Vice President Karen Chupka explained. “We also need to keep the event content timely for attendees who can expect to see trends that will influence business and the economy.”

The Possible Benefits

Of course, while it’s fascinating to grasp the potential of next-generation wireless in the abstract, the real question is what benefits it will bring to associations. AT&T in particular has talked about the value of 5G in large venues, such as conference centers and stadiums.

When it comes to conferences, there’s evidence of stress in the current structure around wireless. Events have at times buckled under the weight of all the wireless networks. In one famous example, an iPhone demo at an Apple event went south because there were more than 500 wireless networks running ad hoc in the venue.

Although wireless technology has evolved since then (and continues to do so), the expected hundredfold increase in data transfer rates could potentially make latency a thing of the past on the expo hall floor. Chupka says these and other factors will help attendees “make the best use of their time exploring the show floor and connecting with other attendees.”

Beyond improving attendee connections, she says that “5G will better enable event organizers to push critical information to our attendees, including livestream content, can’t-miss conference session details, and security alerts.”

5G technology could also help improve things for other facilities. According to Skift, it’s believed that this new wireless infrastructure will help alleviate pressure for the hotel industry, which has struggled to keep up with needed Wi-Fi upgrades.

Preparing for Next Steps

While the potential benefits are easy to talk about, the real-world impact beyond demos might be a bit harder to grasp in the near-term.

According to Chupka, CTA doesn’t think the true impact of 5G will be felt for at least five years, as the technology reaches maturity—meaning it might be a while before events are able to take advantage of what’s next.

But there are ways for associations to start preparing now. This could include researching emerging trends related to 5G (network providers, like Nokia, have much in the way of resources) or considering whether additional training is necessary for more technical employees and vendors. The Wireless Industry Association, for one, is embracing apprenticeships to help get industry workers workers up to speed. And it might help to do some research into your bandwidth needs at events—the meetings industry group IACC offers an online speed test that can help you understand bandwidth concerns for your conference venue, both now and in the future.

There’s a lot to look forward to. “Once 5G moves from trials to commercialization, the impact on an event like CES will be boundless,” Chupka said.

Qualcomm presents at CES 2019, where ran onsite 5G demos. (Handout photo)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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