Brave New Research—Looking Ahead to a 5G World
by Mike Humphrey

  • Mobile Marketing Research
    You may have seen a lot lately about the oncoming “5G Revolution.” While revolution is an overused headline, in this case it may in fact be understated. With the brisk pace of technological advancement, and the constant stream of “breaking news” these days, this next step in network evolution isn’t getting the press it deserves. For us laymen, 5G is sometimes described as “an evolution of 4G LTE which will enhance networks with greater speed, lower latency, and more flexibility.”

    To many, this simple explanation means just another move up the “G scale” and belies the impact 5G migration is likely to have. According to experts, our daily lives and almost every industry will see monumental changes, from manufacturing and services, to self-driving cars and smarter home appliances beyond the Internet of Things. We’re talking a smart planet, where a surgeon in Houston may perform a complicated procedure on a patient in rural Bolivia via a cell tower and rapidly-evolving robotics. And that just scratches the surface.

If these predictions are even half-realized, the move to 5G will open new horizons for us all. So, what are the implications for the marketing research world? The answers to this question will be revealed over the next several years, as the full rollout isn’t expected until the 2020s. Here in the present, let’s take a quick look at some of the ways a more connected world, and lightning-fast networks, may impact data collection and other areas.

Mobile Surveys

The progression from phone and in-person surveys to online has made data collection faster, cheaper, and (when executed correctly) more accurate. The power of 5G will go further in unleashing the full potential of mobile research, with benefits including:

  • Vastly improved network speeds, latency, and reliability will make question, image, and video loading appear instantaneous, with complex surveys less “clunky” and time-consuming for respondents. This is likely to have a significant positive impact on response rates and data accuracy.
  • Improved battery life. Some predict 5G to improve battery life by a factor of 10, at least, which should vastly improve completion rates as respondents are more willing and able to use mobile.
  • More precise geofencing—less impacted by crowds, weather, and poor connectivity—will allow for more timely and accurate customer feedback. Previously difficult or impossible locations will become new opportunities for in-the-moment research.
  • More flexibility in survey design, as previously challenging question types on mobile (e.g., discrete-choice tasks) load faster, are more easily customized, and better simulate a consumer’s shopping experience.
Online Qualitative

Use of online qualitative has become ubiquitous in our industry, beyond what many thought possible just 5 years ago. 5G will vastly improve the efficiency of current techniques and increase adoption for innovative, new methodologies. You can imagine the advantages of 10x faster, more reliable connections for virtual shop-alongs, eye-tracking, webcam depth interviews, and live, online focus groups. Artificial intelligence, cited often as a major beneficiary of the 5G rollout, will become a valuable tool for qualitative researchers—from execution and analysis of “big qual” studies to assisting moderators with fast-turn projects.

Virtual-Reality Tools

Recently, I was privy to some impressive, new VR capabilities at the annual Flexographic printing conference. These tools have advanced rapidly in recent years, but cost and other limitations have capped their widespread use for many research applications. For researchers, perhaps the most impressive impact of 5G will be in this realm. Imagine a family taking a trip to the grocery store together, from their living room, guided by a remote moderator throughout the journey. Package, product, and shelf optimization using discrete-choice tasks will come to life in a virtual new world, without the restraints of device type or connection speed and reliability.

Other Implications

Beyond data collection and qualitative, the impact of 5G will be felt throughout the research process from panel recruiting to advanced analytics. Analysis of big data through machine-learning and other techniques will become multitudes more powerful and actionable as networks and researchers communicate more efficiently, and analytic tools become faster and more precise.

Of course this look at potential impacts is by no means comprehensive and, as with all innovation, there will be hurdles and misfires as we adapt to a 5G world. How will this revolution affect your business and industry? At the least, maybe those conference calls from the airport lobby will finally go off without a hitch. More likely, it will be a “New World” for research and beyond.

About the Author

Mike Humphrey ( is a Senior Vice President of Decision Analyst. He may be reached at 1-800-262-5974 or 1-817-640-6166.

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