How many times have we all had connection issues on a high-speed train, or while sat in a café, enjoying a coffee? All it takes is for a large group to connect to the Wi Fi before that dreaded rotating ring appears on your screen.

Images go fuzzy, videos start lagging. This is your phone’s way of telling you there are too many cooks in the kitchen, and that the network cannot support the amount of connections being made. All this work is too much for the network, and it makes for poor digital experiences.

Lag, interruption, inaccessibility. With more people connected than ever before, this is what consumers must endure with 4G today. Impatience is growing – and rightly so. Nobody is tolerant of a dodgy boiler because it takes away hot showers. So why should we expect anyone to feel differently when a spotty connection interrupts their digital consumption?

The public now expect seamless, reliable and consistent high-quality delivery of digital content on their mobile device. They are increasingly expecting digital experiences to come through cutting edge, immersive technologies like replaced reality and mixed reality. If they don’t get it, they switch off. If businesses can’t provide it, they’ll lose out.

This is why businesses should not see 5G as something that will enable digital luxuries. Instead, it must be seen for what it is – an absolute necessity just to keep up with consumer expectations.

This is what we at Landmrk have discovered while working on a government-funded 5G testbed on Smart Tourism. Our role in the project was to test the capabilities of 360-degree replaced reality experiences on a 5G network with Edge computing. One particular day, it became clear to us that 4G simply cannot deliver these experiences at scale.

We were testing the replaced reality platform on College Green in Bristol, and it was working fine – until the sun came out. As everyone flocked outside, pulling out their phones for prime selfie-weather, the platform could not handle the flurry of connections and the whole experience fell short.

How will 5G change the game?

The truth is, 5G is not an end in itself – it’s a means to an end. It is the vehicle that will drive cutting-edge technologies into everyday use and provide businesses with the opportunity to create unique, high-quality experiences and human interactions with their content.

So far, the world of replaced reality has been trapped in the gimmicky stage, only giving consumers a small taste of what to expect from these technologies. 5G is the essential tool that will break us out of this phase, and allow brands to finally satisfy the public’s growing digital expectations.

The times they are a changin’

Currently, the weakness of the 4G network has forced developers working in augmented and mixed reality to create platforms that must be processed on-device. The problem is that processing technology in this way is difficult and inconvenient, because it means the device has to do all the work. In real terms, this means you have to squeeze a lot of hardware into gimmicky headsets that people don’t want to wear. Or it means downloading cumbersome apps that take up precious hard-drive space.

Either way, this is not what the end user wants or expects. The digital experiences that brands should be offering need to be deployable in an instant – they shouldn’t require all this unnecessary baggage. The biggest change we will start to see with the roll-out of 5G, then, is less focus on VR headsets, AR glasses and clunky apps, because these devices simply don’t offer the best content. Instead, truly customised and personal digital experiences will be available on the 5G network, with its new and improved cloud and Edge processing.

Come join me on my cloud

It’s the sheer power and speed of 5G that will make these experiences possible. A constant, reliable connection will allow replaced reality and other high-tech digital experiences to play out seamlessly online, merging the digital and physical words in the way consumers have grown to expect.

In the age of 4G, we cannot effectively process awesome experiences like a 360° mixed reality tour of Bristol. As soon as the sun comes out, it will falter. However, when the time comes, the 5G network will do all the heavy lifting. This will relinquish developers from the chains of on-device processing, allowing cool new technologies to move away from being a gimmick, and towards being a practical tool for your brand.