Business communication in a 5G world

The new revolution of 5G mobile technology will be to 4G technology what social media is to the vacation postcard, campaign fly-arounds are to the whistle-stop speech, and streaming video is to the VHS movie store.

I’ve had a front-row seat watching 5G develop as the chief communications executive at Sprint, Inc., one of the technology’s leading proponents. Sprint, combined with our pending merger partner T-Mobile, and other competitors are poised to market instant access to the internet at staggering speeds and enormous volumes absent today’s limiting slowdowns.

Experts agree that wireless technology revolutions culminate over the period of roughly a decade. For 5G, we’re still just at the beginning. It will take massive capital investment and determined effort from both the public and private sectors to fully build out needed infrastructure. But C-suite leadership and their communications teams must get ready now. Opportunity knocks. Our jobs are changing. Think forward and adapt or be disrupted and join the nostalgia party with vinyl records and instant-film cameras.

The FANG cohort of technology companies — Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google — came to prominence in a 4G world. They revolutionized the basics of everyday human life, redefining how we connect, shop, entertain and inform. Uber boldly turned transportation upside down and created a new household word synonymous with its mobile app centered brand of disruption. Among others, Airbnb became an Uber of hotels, Snapchat an Uber of messaging, and Venmo an Uber of payments.

What new generation of companies will 5G networks give rise to in the years ahead? Expect the birth of an Uber of Uber, unless it disrupts itself first. The possibilities are endless for the world these companies will create.

Smart homes will turn into genius homes with an average of 100 connected devices compared to today’s average of three. Working with robotic technology from a central location, surgeons will perform delicate, life-saving procedures on patients around the world. Self-driving cars will react more quickly and precisely than human beings on roads that will be safer than ever before. Remotely operated robots will be able to disarm explosive devices at no risk to human life and with a level of precision that rivals highly specialized human technicians.

When it comes to the corporate world, 5G will enable operating efficiencies, more informed decision-making and even better employee engagement. Externally, a potentially bigger picture emerges. Expect to witness an initially uneven but ultimately complete rebalancing of power between consumers, investors, regulators, activists and business leadership.

Annual shareholder meetings, activist protests and even parking lot chatter at the zoning board will play out even more transparently, courtesy of instant, always-on and everywhere mobile devices. 5G will produce ever more consumer behavior data, within clear data privacy constraints, with increased ability to analyze and evaluate how it aggregates, where it’s going and what it means. Dashboards will feature past, current and prospective revenues, expenditures, cash flows, environmental compliance and all other needed metrics in user-friendly formats, updated in real-time and informed by artificial intelligence. Transparency will be a way of life, not the preferred option of only savvy leadership.

For communications professionals, 5G will mean that the use of time-honored “narrative” message architecture will likely yield to “the predictive.” News releases, earnings scripts, and CEO shareholder letters that incrementally build on yesterday’s facts will add far less value. Increased transparency, technology and modern sensibilities will elevate the demand for C-suite leaders who are fluent in the softer skills of personal, social and mass communications. Public oversight will increasingly give way to public consent. The license to operate will be earned by quick-thinking communicators deploying a powerful blend of rational, emotive, and predictive skills, credibly, quickly and in accordance with new-century expectations.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it will be. If it sounds like information flow and communications will thrive at the very core of the enterprise, it’s true. For quick-thinking, fast-adapting communicators, it sounds like opportunity knocking on the front door. For the chief communications officer, it sounds like an even bigger and more vital C-suite role in the 5G world. I can’t wait to see it, work there, and close each workday at least one nimble footstep ahead of that morning’s big idea.

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