This year is poised to be a big year for wireless carriers. With the rollout of 5G wireless between now and 2020, mobile customers can expect to see exponentially faster connectivity speeds. AT&T and Verizon are in a race to be the first to deliver true 5G to the masses this year and many are hoping if their area will be the next to have access to the newest generation in mobile technology.
Some have wondered if 5G will be the silver bullet to helping close the broadband gap in rural geographies. After all, many rural residents are already dependent on their wireless provider for basic internet access and streaming – 5G speeds would be a welcome improvement.
So, what’s the scoop on rural wireless users and how might 5G improve their ability to stay connected? Also, how can mobile carriers appeal to rural residents as wireless technology advances? Let’s find out.
Understanding the Rural Consumer and Wireless Trends
From survey data, we can see that rural consumers ages 18-49 are smartphone users who use their prepaid plans with unlimited data to do just about everything – other than call internationally.
When we look at the breakdown of how rural consumers use their phones, we can see how their devices play a big part of their lives, whether to connect socially or as a tool to get through the day.
Multiple feature users; cell phones help them keep up with their professional life in addition to their personal life; more likely to own a smartphone; cell phone has become their all-in-one device for their communication and information needs.
Represent the mobile generation; grew up with cell phones and can’t imagine life without them; cell phone are a central part of their everyday lives.
Not into cell phones or the world of technology; use their cell phone for the basics; cell phone is just another communication device.
Communication is center in their lives; cell phones allow them to keep up to date with friends and social events and serve as the bridge to their social world.
Cell phones came to life in their adulthood; still learning there are other things to do with your phone beyond just saying “Hello”; cell phones are more a part of their everyday lives than before but still more functional than entertaining to them.
Given the digital divide in rural communities and the importance mobile services have with these consumers, the importance of making sure they are fully aware of every service offering that can add value to their customer experience – especially in the absence of reliable home internet Examples include unlimited data offerings, mobile devices with better and more advanced options, mobile hotspots, and tethering capabilities.
Will Rural Residents Benefit From 5G?
So back to the burning question – what do rural residents stand to gain from 5G? From what we are seeing, not much in the way of patching up spotty and unreliable home internet. The limitation of true 5G, or millimeter wave, is that it will be very high frequency, which means it will not be able to travel as far or penetrate as well as lower frequency signals. So, distance, mountains, trees – all those things that are very common in rural geographies pose serious obstacles to 5G deployment in rural communities.
What rural will likely see will be what’s called “Sub-6” 5G or “low-band”. It’s not as fast as millimeter wave and can’t handle as much capacity. But it can travel further, it’s more stable, it’s easier to deploy, and capacity limitations are not as much of a concern in sparsely-populated rural areas.
Will rural residents benefit? Yes, but not to the degree their urban counterparts will. The variation in 5G rural residents will receive will indeed be much faster than the speeds they are used to. But it will not be the same revolutionary wireless technology that will be deployed in larger cities and towns.
How Mobile Providers Can Appeal to Rural Markets
For rural residents, any improvement in wireless speed is a good thing – digital divide or no digital divide. Because broadband coverage in rural areas is so hit and miss, often rural residents find themselves relying on more than one source for internet access, for example when weather is bad, and their satellite internet goes out, mobile tethering can help in those situations. Also, for farming communities, faster mobile connection speeds will certainly be an improvement over the status quo.
Use Direct Mail to Deliver The Good News About 5G
When the low-band version of 5G is rolled out, getting the message out to the right people will be key. Direct mail prompts action – in fact, in the last 30 days 37.9% of potential mobile/wireless network switchers saw an ad or coupon in their mailbox that led them to take action. This number increases to 66.9% over 12 months. The way to appeal to rural markets is to reach them where accessibility is assured – in their mailbox. We can’t make any promises, but we suspect that in digitally underserved rural areas, anything in their mailbox promoting the availability of faster internet speeds will be sure to raise more than a few eyebrows.
NHCS Adult Study 2018