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“Imagine being in the airport, and your plane starts to board in five minutes. You realize you don’t have anything to watch during the flight, so you scramble to try and download your favorite movie before you need to go,” Conor Campbell, senior manager of corporate communications at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., told The Points Guy. “Today, you’d be lucky if you can get that whole two-hour movie downloaded in time. But with 5G, our simulations show that you can download that same movie in just a minute or so.”

Qualcomm, a technology manufacturing company at the forefront of the 5G movement, recently vocalized its commitment to bringing 5G networks — and ultra-fast phones — to the US by April 2019. And faster download times for inflight entertainment are just one small way 5G could transform the travel industry.

What Is 5G?

Last year, the wireless industry announced the 5G standard (fifth-generation mobile network or wireless systems). The new standard promises to make the Internet faster; to expand the scope of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) concepts; and to broaden our ability to connect on mobile devices.

This standard will not only allow humans to continue connecting over digital devices, but it will also allow our devices to connect and communicate with each other. (Freaky, right?)

Around a decade ago, 4G technologies were still a developer’s dream. If you can remember life before smartphones, the idea of using your mobile phone to book a hotel room, call a cab or purchase plane tickets with a single screen tap seemed entirely unrealistic.

smartphone
(Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy.)

When the 4G standard was introduced, its impact on the way we traveled was monumental. We no longer had to print MapQuest directions for road trips because 4G allowed us to use our phones as our guide. Printed boarding passes (though still something of a novelty) became obsolete, because our phones became our ticket.

In that same sense, 5G now has the potential to open the digital world to everyone and connect every digital device and network imaginable. This means we could, once again, be on the verge of a technological revolution in the travel industry.

How 5G Could Change Travel

With the ability to handle more data and connect more devices simultaneously, 5G is fundamental for the efficacy of self-driving cars and smarter transportation systems in cities. For example, 5G could help reduce road congestion by allowing stoplights to change based on traffic patterns.

This new standard could also be the missing link for smart, efficient and error-free self-driving cars. Driverless cars need 5G to be able to communicate fast enough to avoid collisions. With the 5G standard, a future where we no longer have to drive ourselves to our destinations seems within reach.

And because 5G has the potential to operate at 20 gigabytes per second — 100 times faster than the speed at which we currently connect — we can expect better live streaming, and more virtual and augmented reality experiences, especially in the mobile market.

Black businessman riding in taxi on city street. (Photo by Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images)

The ability to experience VR and AR concepts on our smartphones could broaden the digital marketing world for brands and businesses, especially within the travel industry. Imagine previewing a hotel room without making a reservation, or being “immersed” in a destination before ever taking flight.

For example, the wildly successful 2016 augmented reality app, Pokémon Go, inspired users to get out and explore their city while playing a game on their smartphones. Once 5G becomes our standard, we could see a lot of new apps and devices that employ VR and AR to change the way we interact with a destination, or make decisions on how and where we travel.

Instantaneous translations will also become more practical with 5G. “5G will bring lower latency — like one or two milliseconds — to many features, so if you are trying to speak with a cab driver, your device can translate the conversation in almost real time,” Campbell said.

smartphone
(Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy.)

For those who spend a lot of time away from their family for business, the speed increase associated with 5G will also unlock smoother, more vivid video calls. That will certainly help with homesickness, and will allow families separated by oceans to feel a bit closer.

Another benefit of 5G travelers can’t undervalue? The ability to share higher quality videos and photos on our phones with a speed that could feel immediate.

Mobile transformations take time, and while 5G won’t change the entire world overnight, its benefits will no doubt be felt as launch markets are decided. As Campbell pointed out, a 5G-enabled device is dependent on the network, so travelers abroad will continue to experience slower speeds when visiting a country still operating on a 4G or 3G network.

Feature image by Zach Meaney on Unsplash

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