Telecommunications companies aiming to leverage 5G are currently in the process of positioning themselves as the top players in the new field. Their PR priority is to be perceived as first-movers, innovators, critical for digital transformation and fundamental for IoT projects. This can be achieved by designing a data-driven communications strategy. Utilising our media analytics tools, we discovered the main topics of the 5G coverage and which firms are in the spotlight.

Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, the Internet of Things – the media is full of tech-related buzz words with fuzzy meanings which are thrown around by journalists and pundits in every context imaginable. Such terms are regularly encountered in news and features covering not only technological developments but also politics, business, healthcare, entertainment and so on. This is because, as everyone asserts, the advancements behind these fashionable words are transforming every aspect of our lives.

But the meaning of one of these tech buzzwords – 5G – has been assuming more concrete outlines. When the media began discussing it, reporters let their imagination fly and painted the futuristic pictures which guarantee readers’ excitement. Now the conversation has become more balanced as we’ve already begun to witness what 5G means, but it still remains a technology referred to as revolutionary or pivotal.

Expected to launch across the world by 2020, 5G is hailed as the new standard of wireless telecommunications which will bring about long-term economic benefits for consumers and businesses. Its ambitions are to be something much more than just an improvement of 4G or a new wireless interface protocol offering more capacity and better performance: it’s supposed to enable the connection between all kinds of devices and make possible the Internet of Things.

So it’s something beyond just connecting people to other people through their smartphones – it will also connect a plethora of things to other things, so the economic value would not be limited by the number of consumers and their spending power. A report by MarketsandMarkets concluded that the 5G infrastructure market will be worth $2.86 billion by 2020 and $33.72 billion by 2026, growing at a 50.9% compound annual growth rate. Contributing factors include increased demand for mobile data services, machine-to-machine communication, and an increasing need for more speed and better coverage.

The countries which are fast to adopt 5G are expected to enjoy a considerable competitive advantage – the ones that first introduced the wireless technology of previous generations still reap the fruits of macroeconomic gains, but 5G’s potential is much bigger. During the forecast period, the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region will grow the fastest, while North America will hold the largest market share. China, the world’s largest mobile market, is leading the race in these early stages, and indeed, there are hardly any articles on 5G that don’t mention the Chinese market.

In a special report, Deloitte asserts that 5G is e fuel for economic growth due to the so-called network effect in economics – the positive impact that additional users of a service have on the value of that service. Deloitte foresees that 5G will amplify this effect by bringing the Internet to almost any kind of device, generating a data-network effect, which the Economist defines in the following way: “using data to attract more users, who then generate more data, which help to improve services, which attracts more uses.” The value of 5G will be in the enormous amounts of data as a result of the hyperconnectivity between people and things.

First bricks of image building

Companies aiming to leverage 5G are currently in the process of positioning themselves as the top players in the new field. In a global study across 10 industries and 900 organisations with more than 1000 employees each, Ericsson has found that 5G is a clear business focus, with many competing to be first.

The most important strategic objective for 5G is having a first-mover advantage, according to 73% of the respondents in the survey. Timing is a vital factor – an average of 70% strive to be in production with their first commercial use case in 2021, while more than 50% would like to be in trails by 2019. The first-mover advantage is followed by other priorities such as ‘being seen as an innovator’, ‘critical for digital transformation’ and ‘fundamental for IoT projects’.

This means that companies should be very quick in their efforts to put themselves at the forefront of innovation. If they want to be seen as first-movers, innovators, critical for digital transformation and fundamental for IoT projects, firms should accompany their research and development initiatives with effective communication campaigns which would highlight that they’re in the front rows of the tech revolution. And this should start with an analysis of the current debates in the media.

Thanks to our analytics tools, we discovered the main topics of the 5G coverage:

According to many media outlets, some of the main contributing factors for the immense interest in 5G are the demands for enhanced mobile internet experiences, faster bandwidth, advanced services and accelerated adoption of the Internet of Things. The discussion about 5G’s potential uses makes ‘applications’ the top topic of the coverage, and in the array of these uses, the most widely discussed is the Internet of Things. However, the articles on this topic are still more general and hypothetic in nature and don’t mention specific brands that often.

The discussion revolves around specific industries, mainly automotive, energy, healthcare, retail, consumer electronics, and public safety and surveillance. In China, for instance, the country viewed as the leading contestant in the 5G race, there is a national initiative for cooperation between operators and the electric power industry. Huawei, China Telecom and China’s State Grid are in the spotlight with a report entitled 5G Network Slicing Enabling Smart Grid, which focuses on the challenges of smart grid development, potential application scenarios of 5G network slicing in smart grids, and analysis from the aspect of 5G network slicing and smart grid.

While operators take different approaches to 5G, a number of articles focus on identifying general industry trends. For example, mobile operators are testing a band spectrum from 3.5 gigahertz to 80 gigahertz for 5G, and most are interested in 3.5 gigahertz bands, followed by 26 gigahertz and 28 gigahertz bands, which will make these bands the first up for auction. As a report by McKinsey puts it: “The new spectrum will give operators greater bandwidth and a consequential increase in air capacity. Consider the European Union, which is now releasing up to 400 megahertz bandwidth on 3.5 gigahertz. Operators that do not undertake acquisitions and continue to rely on legacy bands could soon run into capacity issues.”

While most articles are on applications and general trends, soon the volume of coverage on product or service launches will increase. For now, the reports on launches are focused on the plans of specific companies. For instance, Indian mobile network operator Reliance Jio is preparing to launch 5G telecom services, something which the Economic Times reported less than a week after India’s Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan said that auction of spectrum for 5G services is likely to happen in the second half of 2019. “Jio has 5G-ready LTE network and we are capable of launching the new technology-based services within five-six months once spectrum is allocated,” a company spokesman was quoted.

Reports on research and development also concentrate on how particular companies are approaching 5G. For example, Telstra, Australia’s largest telecommunications company, has opened a 5G innovation centre in the Gold Coast region to test next-generation technologies to support the early commercial deployment of 5G services in Australia: the telco sector in the country aims strives to launch commercial 5G services in 2019.

Huawei also figures prominently in the coverage on this topic – the Financial Times reported that the firm’s research and development budget has hit $14 billion, fuelling fears in the US administration that Chinese companies will spearhead standard-setting in next-generation technologies. Huawei’s chief executive Ken Hu said that his organisation had signed memorandums of understanding for 5G equipment with 45 operators in Asia, Europe and North America.

News on mergers and acquisitions are dominated by the partnership between T-Mobile, the brand name of the mobile communications subsidiaries of the German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom, and American telecommunications company Sprint, run by the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank. Many commentators see this as an attempt to challenge AT&T and Verizon.

When it comes to the issue of regulation, most articles focused on the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). According to many journalists, this piece of legislation will also impact the US, where privacy scandals involving giants such as Facebook have become everyday news. In the wake of 5G, telco companies would have to update their data privacy policies and procedures.

While the previous topics are discussed in a vast array of news outlets, articles on regulation are primarily in specialised telco publications such as Multichannel News, where Tracy Currie, CEO of marketing firm Capto, writes: “TME [telecommunications, media and entertainment] brands should view the new EU data protection rules as an opportunity and reason to put more structure around collecting, managing and using customer data effectively and securely. GDPR should also serve as a 5G precursor for marketers to purge outdated customer data, including any sensitive information that’s being held without reason.”

Many articles also talk about 5G in the context of the trade war between the US and China. For more on this topic, read our two-part analysis: Corporate Communications in the Battlefields and Thought Leaders on the Battleground.

Connecting up

We also found the most prominent brands in the 5G coverage:

As we mentioned above, Huawei is often the centre of the coverage, but Ericsson has a slight advantage when it comes to the number of mentions. The Swedish telecommunications company has set up a 5G development facility in Singapore to work on skills upgrading, product demos, and industry collaboration. It also launched 5G Radio Access Network (RAN) commercial software for radio and core networks. In s 5G partnership with Japanese information technology company Fujitsu, it plans to deliver 5G mobile network services and solutions across Japan. The top trending piece of news about the company is that it will also provide T-Mobile with its latest 5G new radio hardware and 3GPP for $3.5 billion.

Apart from the developments discussed above, Huawei is also mentioned for unveiling what it claims to be the world’s first commercial chipset that meets the standards of 5G wireless networks. Alongside Hong Kong Telecom and the Global Mobile Suppliers Association, the firm has also issued a white paper on the complexity of indoor 5G network deployment. There was also some negative coverage, however, particularly when Germany became the latest country wanting to bar its operators from using network equipment from Huawei due to security concerns. Huawei spokespeople told Reuters: “Cybersecurity has always been our top priority and we have a proven track record of providing secure products and solutions for our customers in Germany and around the world.”

AT&T, the world’s largest telecommunications company and one of the US carriers with contracts to provision 5G connectivity in the country, is associated with more down-to-earth comments on 5G. Its CFO John Stephens said that he doesn’t expect significant 5G revenues anytime soon: “On revenue opportunities, will we say in five years, how did we ever live without this? I would say yes. It’s an exciting spot. We’re ready. But I’m not here to make any predictions on revenue opportunities in ‘19.”

He added that 5G devices would also be slow to sell as only 5% of AT&T’s customers purchase a new phone every quarter, in line with the findings of consultancy NPD Connected Intelligence’s latest Mobile Connectivity Report, which showed that the average U.S. smartphone upgrade cycle is 32 months, up from 25 months one year prior. Some publications suggest that AT&T’s advantage is that it’s working to launch 5G mobile service in 19 US cities.

There are many articles which do comparative analyses on the 5G plans of activities of several companies. For instance, AT&T is compared to Verizon, with the main difference being that AT&T has a 5G mobile offering, while Verizon provides 5G over fixed networks at homes and offices without a mobile gear. Verizon’s 5G Home service has been on the market for a month, and the media has already started with the balance-sheets. According to analysts at Deutsche Bank, who wrote about their meetings with Verizon in a note to investors, half of the Verizon’s 5G Home service subscribers were not previous Verizon customers.

AT&T’s approach in choosing to focus on several cities initially is also compared to T-Mobile’s ambitions to bring 5G connectivity across the US, even in rural areas. T-Mobile distinguishes itself from the other major wireless providers by claiming that only it will have nationwide mobile 5G coverage based on industry standards approved by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) conglomerate, an alliance between groups of telecommunications standards associations. The firm promoted its efforts by giving computer magazine PCMag an exclusive tour around its 5G Experience Truck, which shows what 5G is capable of.

Verizon also received much attention for conducting the first major 5G test on a commercially available phone in partnership with Motorola, Samsung and Qualcomm. “This test is also one step closer to getting upgraded speed and connectivity that will affect all aspects of our daily lives. 5G will be a transformational leap in wireless, and we are excited to be a part of it,” Shakil Barkat, vice president of Global Product Development at Motorola, said in a statement.

Samsung, the world’s largest electronics maker in terms of revenue, was often mentioned in relation to its partnership with Verizon. “Samsung’s early and extensive innovation in 5G is helping to lay the foundation for the next-generation of wireless communications,” said Magnus Ojert, vice president of the Networks Division. “Beginning with our contributions to Verizon’s 5G Home service, commercialized on October 1, and now with 5G New Radio, we’re excited to continue our work with Verizon while advancing our lead in delivering 5G mobile technology that will benefit consumers, businesses and cities.”

Apart from Ojert, many articles also quoted Youngky Kim, president and head of Samsung’s network business, who told a WSJ D.Live panel in California that 5G will unlock the potential of AI. The firm will invest $22 billion in 5G networking and AI to secure minimum 20% market share in network equipment by 2020. “AI needs a lot of data to respond to you,” Kim said. “This amount of data can be provided by 5G, not 4G.”

The upcoming 5G-compatible smartphone Samsung Galaxy 5G is also subject to many speculations in the media. South Korean news site The Bell, whose journalists are experts on Samsung, reported that “in order to realise 5G communication” in the Galaxy S10 “4 ~ 5 more antennas are needed than 4G”, which would mean that “the price of the series can be the most expensive.”

The other big electronics company in our list – Nokia – gained prominence in the coverage due to its partnership with T-Mobile, which announced that it has achieved the global first live network 5G data transmission using low-band spectrum, and shared its plans to “blanket the country with broad 5G in 2020”. This will be facilitated thanks to the merger with Sprint, as T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray told business technology news website ZDNet. Nokia has signed €2 billion deals with China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom to deliver radio, fixed access equipment, IP routing, optical transport equipment, software-defined networking products and services to these carriers.

In addition to its partnership with Verizon, equipment company Qualcomm is in the news because it supplied Australia’s largest telecommunications company Telstra with a commercial 5G chipset, with which it achieved the country’s first live 5G connection. Meanwhile, China Mobile is introducing its first 5G phone in 2019, company spokespeople announced at the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Zhejiang. The firm aims to boost its leadership image via a large-scale 5G marketing campaign, which includes a new logo with 5G as a key part.

5G is an opportunity for China’s ZTE to showcase its range of products and solutions on the biggest and most visible stage of all, CE Ye, vice president of FDD Products at ZTE, told trade publication Total Telecom.  Ming Xiao, president of sales at ZTE, said in an interview with industry magazine Light Reading that a long-term objective is to increase ZTE’s share of the overall equipment market to around a quarter, from roughly a tenth today.

In the advent of 5G, the telecommunications sector is set to become even more competitive, and the blistering pace of technological development has turned into a race for innovation. As first-movers advantages would be decisive, the need for a swift execution of PR campaigns has never been more pressing. Brands should be quick to establish themselves as the leaders of the future by showcasing their tech prowess while generating excitement for the new connectivity era.

Since it’s imperative for companies to be seen as first-movers, innovators, critical for digital transformation and fundamental for the Internet of Things projects, they should be mentioned more as often as possible in the context of such issues. They should particularly step up their efforts in becoming thought leaders on the Internet of Things – as we observed in our analysis, not many articles on this subject talk about specific brands. With the hype around this subject increasing, firms need to position themselves in the centre of the conversation.

If the value of a service increases with more data, thereby creating the data-network effect we touched upon above, then the value of communication strategies would certainly increase by assuming a data-driven approach. Such an approach is best developed through quantitative high-level media measurement with human-led in-depth qualitative analysis.