It is 11 pm on a Friday night in Mumbai. You look through the glass and are virtually transported 384,400 km away, to a lunar scavenger hunt with fellow sneakerheads from earth. You would go to the moon and back to unlock limited edition sneakers from your favorite brand, and now you have. Though hopping across the Apollo crater at zero gravity is tougher than you imagined! Welcome to a 5G future with its universe of possibilities—a shopping event on the moon being just one of them.

The arrival of 5G, with massively upscaled network technology, downloads in the blink of an eye, much lower lag, and newer opportunities for connectivity, will dramatically change how Indians live and work, but as much, how we play. The future of leisure—where we meet, how we socialise, interact, shop, binge watch, enjoy a cricket match—when powered by this next frontier of technology, will be transformed.

If anything, this future has come closer since the pandemic, which fast-tracked all things digital. Over the past year, experiences have been recreated virtually to bring back the comfort of the social interactions we miss so much. In India, Amazon Prime Video recently introduced a ‘Watch Party’ feature, allowing users here to binge watch and chat together through their favorite shows. In the U.S., Levi's leveraged screen sharing app Squad to allow friends to shop together, try out different looks using Augmented Reality (AR) and weigh in on each other's choices, reinforcing shopping as a social activity. Virtual events, meanwhile, have had their own planet-sized moment. A staggering 12.3 million people logged in for rapper Travis Scott’s concert on online game Fortnite, more than any physical concert venue could hold. Sports saw a crossover too. When the NBA played a “bubble” season in the U.S., it launched a Virtual Reality (VR) experience through Oculus to digitally transport people to games.

But this innovation is only the tip of the iceberg. From where we are standing today, 5G will be a giant leap forward—everything we have imagined, or can, will be within reach. By 2026, there will be an estimated 350 million 5G subscriptions in India—27% of the total mobile connections in the country, according to Ericsson. But to ride the wave of opportunity this presents, brands in India will have to visualize and reimagine what’s possible in a 5G world.

Elevated: The future of events and experiences

From gleaming cities suspended in the sky to environments that change as you walk through them—the extraordinary worlds from science fiction will truly come alive with 5G. Imagine it as foundational tech that allows creators to rethink the use of technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), AR, VR, and Artificial Intelligence (A.I.).

The next frontier of immersive experiences using VR and AR will benefit enormously from 5G’s faster network, without even the slightest lag. Connected with 5G, VR, AR, and holographic projections will allow Indians to engage in interactive, seamless, immersive ways without location or time constraints. From your home in Bangalore, you could still attend a friend’s wedding in New York, as a hologram. Or go on a VR trek through the Himalayas with friends. Or wander through your favorite store in the mall virtually to fill an actual cart, that is later shipped home. Love the new Bollywood blockbuster? Step into it and feel the action unfold around you.

Live entertainment experiences will also be completely upended—at the world premiere of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, attendees at the after-party in Los Angeles interacted with virtual Sith Jet troopers in an authentic Star Wars environment. Live events in the future will be a playground for spectacular experiences.

With 5G, collective online experiences will be differentiated from traditional events—think out-of-this-world VR settings, special effects, customization and interaction on an unparalleled scale. 5G will also unlock the potential of advances in the field of haptics—the science of simulating touch as you interact with an object virtually. This will add an exciting dimension to VR experiences—imagine feeling the impact of a punch, much like hero Wade Watts did in the sci-fi hit Ready Player One.

In a 5G world, traditional event KPIs like novelty, audience satisfaction and reach will find new benchmarks digitally—the guest list for an event could potentially span the world! In terms of the commercial possibilities, brands sponsoring performances or teams would not have boundaries that limit the reach of their message. All of which would unlock new value and monetisation opportunities for businesses.

Immersive: The future of sports and fandom

How we enjoy matches in the stadium and at home will completely transform with 5G. With AR, Cricket fans will be able to see stats and data overlays of their favorite team on their phones in real time. An audience poll could one day be the ‘third umpire’ which decides when a player is out. Fans in a stadium would be able to choose from multiple camera angles to stay on top of the action— this was recently tested at the NFL SuperBowlLV in the U.S. During the same game, 5G enabled the largest activation ever built in Fortnite’s Creative Mode, giving gamers everywhere the opportunity to interact with their favorite NFL players, play football-inspired games and find hidden surprises in a stadium-size virtual hub.

As processing for content experiences moves to the edge of the cloud, personalization opportunities with XR experiences rendered in near real-time will increase. Through VR and AR, audiences at home will be able to dive into matches with interactive replays, stats and gaming. And not too far in the future, even watch the game as a live hologram in their living room.

5G will also have a huge impact on gaming, growing fast with India among the top five mobile gaming markets worldwide. High bandwidth will significantly improve experience quality. As importantly, reduced lag will create a more level-playing field, where teams positioned physically closer to the server of the e-sports league will not get an unfair advantage. With low latency, VR and AR gaming will get an upgrade, without the clunky hardware that is currently a pain point for gamers. With processing power and hardware limitations out of the way, game designers and developers will be able to create the best game possible—an evolution that will take gaming to the next level.

Ultimately, 5G will be a game-changer in how it empowers creators to bring people together, adding joy and wonder to their lives. With new creative realities and boundless possibilities, how we will pursue our passions and above all, stay connected, just got more exciting!

Views are personal. The author is CEO of Verizon Media.

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