How will 5G change mobile payments?

Remember when 4G first rolled out? The faster network made light work of video calls, music downloads and winding up your workmates by sending entire albums of your holiday snaps. With the use of 4G, shopping through our mobiles is also much easier too, from auction sites to takeaways, it’s all just a swipe away.

And now, 5G is just around the corner. Extensive testing is taking place across the globe and the first 5G-enabled phones are expected to be launched in early 2019 with global uptake gaining pace in 2020. When you consider that the new technology will be up to a hundred times faster than 4G, this opens a world of possibilities for consumers and retailers… 


It’s predicted that by 2021, 5G will add £8.9 billion in revenue for retailers operating mobile-enabled payment gateways. The main reason is that the increased speed will make mobile transactions easier. Consumers are looking for speed and convenience, we know this from recent Barclaycard research that showed online retailers lose £18 billion each year through abandoned shopping baskets. Capitalising on better connectivity will be a priority for retailers.

But further research from Barclaycard also found that that more than 70% of retailers haven’t introduced any new payment technology to their website in the last two years. That could be something they’ll need to address if the rate of technological change continues unabated.

Something else to address is the need for an omnichannel approach and giving customers a 360 retail experience. Instinctively, you’d think 5G will make things easier, but there’s a catch…

Because 5G uses shorter wavelengths, more transmission towers will be required to keep signal consistent. Also, 5G waves don’t travel that well through buildings. Ensuring solid mobile connectivity could be a priority in the next two years. 

Portable augmented reality

Most of us first saw the possibilities of augmented reality when Pokémon launched it’s Go app in 2016. Small cartoon creatures popping up in parks and our homes captured the imagination of the world. The technology has been picked up elsewhere.

With Apple’s release of its updated operating system, iOS 11, up to 200 million iPhones and iPads are now AR ready. Not to be left behind, ARCore, a platform for building augmented reality apps, was recently launched on Android.

In retail, a good example is Zara’s launch of an AR app experience across 120 stores – enabling potential customers to hold their mobile device up to store windows or signs to be greeted by models wearing the latest fashion, which can then be purchased through the app. Amazon’s AR View, an in-app AR shopping tool, allows you to see how an item will look in your home before you make your purchase. More and more retailers are catching on.

Again though, the 4G network simply can’t transmit enough data to handle full roll-out of augmented or virtual reality. For example, a 360-degree immersive virtual reality video requires a resolution of 8K – that’s twice as detailed as the ultra-HD 4K we’re currently getting used to. Luckily, 5G will allow fairly seamless transmission of 8K.

Within the next few years, a spontaneous shopping trip won’t require an hour in the car or on a bus, or being cooped up indoors close to decent WiFi signal. You could do it while having a picnic in the park or even at the pub. If your favourite retailer has just released their summer collection and you want to be a textile trailblazer, all you’ll need is to pop your headset on or simply look at your screen and have a browse, remotely, without having to lift a finger. 

From social to shopping

Did you know that in 2017 the average person spent over two hours on social media each day?

That’s certainly a long time to grab potential consumers’ attention. New developments in social media apps are making it both quicker and easier to complete a purchase. Instagram, the app for showing off that ‘oh so perfect’ picture of brunch, now boasts 800 million users and a range of capabilities. Developing in the m-commerce space, ads can now mix videos and product catalogues so that consumers can complete purchases without having to leave the app. Embedded advertising and purchasing power gives consumers the ability to complete a purchase directly in app – no need to go anywhere else.

Snapchat is also set to make a move and is testing an m-commerce tool for its Discover function, an area of the app which features curated content. This new functionality would allow users to purchase an advertised product directly from the in-app Snapchat store.

An important consideration for the 5G roll-out and the opportunities it offers is latency. That refers to how long it takes whatever is being broadcast to actually appear on your screen. In a 5G world this time is cut to almost zero. This is good for broadcasting live sports events, but it also allows retailers to present live immersive ‘show and tell’ events via social media in stores. It also makes the idea of live auctions or interactive live sales events much easier to execute. 


Robotics are taking off in retail. Ocado is already using cloud robotics at one of its warehouses and Amazon has been using the technology for years in a similar way. This is good if you have a decent WiFi connection.

In the field though, a huge amount of data transmission is required to operate robots remotely.

Whether it’s controlled by a human, or by artificial intelligence and cloud-based computers like in distribution warehouses, 5G will make the process much easier.

The next steps include airborne drones that will be further enabled by faster 5G connections. Domino’s pizza in Australia are also trialling autonomous delivery vehicles, a concept which will be much easier to deliver with robust mobile networks. In a similar way, the data transfer required to perfect self-driving cars will be readily available. But the applications go much further than that; from remotely operating on patients in isolated parts of the world, to disaster recovery in dangerous areas.

Then there’s the frivolous… Working from home? No problem, send a surrogate into that important meeting. Yes, that is actually happening. At the moment, robo-surrogacy relies on a good WiFi connection at both ends – not so in the future.

The longer-term retail application of this isn’t just in warehouses, but in-store. Automation is already in place at many checkouts, with much success. AI enabled robots could soon be in charge of customer service and even replenishing stock, all powered by 5G connectivity.

4G has created an impatient market. Consumers want it all, and they want it yesterday. The super-fast world of 5G looks to create myriad opportunities in retail and further afield. For those just getting used to the status quo, the next disruption is just around the corner.