How 5G and XR makes mobile shopping faster, better and so much more fun

5G provides quick response and loading times through low latency, transforming mobile shopping into a seamless experience.
Written by Jada Jones, Associate Editor
A woman checks a phone immersed in AI.
Francesco Carta/Getty Images

Humans have incredible capabilities to advance the technologies around us. We've created transformational technologies that save lives, like MRI machines and stoplights, to revolutionary handheld technologies like the iPhone and wireless headphones.

But there's a broader network of technology that keeps all of our pieces of tech fast, fresh, and valuable, and without it, we'd be stuck with slow loading periods and laggy connections. 5G is the latest generation of mobile networks, and it's designed to create a new kind of network to keep us connected and efficient. 

5G is the new global wireless standard, following in the footsteps of 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G networks. 5G wireless technology should provide ultra-low latency, increased availability, higher network capacity, and more reliability. 

It will change the speed of everything we do with our tech, from online gaming to making phone calls. But 5G also promises to transform how we use our mobile devices to shop online. Here's how.

Also: 5G: Where we are, where we're going next

In 2022, e-commerce was responsible for more than $800 billion of revenue in the US and is projected to grow to $1 trillion next year. 5G promises to aid in that growth by meeting consumers' computing demands, such as quick response times, fast loading, and virtual try-on.

Ultra-low latency for seamless shopping 

Low latency is a characteristic of a computer network that can process high volumes of data with minimal delays. Low latency will allow us almost real-time access to digital showrooms and customer service agents.

When a page takes too long to load, consumers quickly lose interest as their willingness to wait significantly decreases. So, when e-commerce companies take advantage of low latency, they're helping their business maintain high sales, as customers are less likely to click away from their site.

James Blake, retail consulting practice leader at Vertex, explains that low latency will help e-commerce brands meet consumer demands. He also says that companies that can meet consumer demand the fastest and the most intuitively will be the winners in the e-commerce industry. 

Also: What is the state of 6G, and when will it arrive?

"The goal should be an online shopping experience so fast and snappy that customers become fully engaged and immersed in the product or service as opposed to being frustrated or distracted with sluggish websites," he says.

Justin Day, CEO at Cloud Gateway, shares the same sentiment as Blake, agreeing that companies don't necessarily need to be the best, but they do need to be the fastest. 

"Shoppers now demand instant access, and as latency improves, we lose our tolerance for any kind of perceived delay," Day says.

And lower latency doesn't only promise to meet customers' demands, as 5G's low latency will help the enterprise remain competitive and up-to-date on business metrics. Parm Sandhu, VP of enterprise and 5G products and services at NTT LTD, explains how companies can use low latency to improve customer satisfaction and enhance brand loyalty.

Also: What Verizon's 5G upgrade news actually means for users

"5G and edge computing enable real-time logistics, such as location tracking of inventory, faster shipping, real-time product information access, and updates, all of which translate to improved customer satisfaction and brand loyalty, which translates to revenue," Sandhu says.

The more we live online, the more stress we put on current networks. Each signal you send from your devices must be processed via broadband: cables, fibers, routers, and wireless transmission. 

In each information processing step, minor delays add up and affect your wait times on a specific website or application. Thus, 5G hopes to decrease these delays' instances and duration to provide a seamless user experience.

5G and extended reality enhance visuals before buying

Extended reality, or XR, is an umbrella term including augmented, virtual, and mixed reality. Essentially, XR is an extension of reality that uses technology to modify your reality by adding virtual elements to your physical environment.

A great example of XR is Apple's Vision Pro headset, as the device doesn't fully immerse you into a digital environment like Meta's Quest headset but adds virtual components to augment the space around you.

But XR is not limited to headsets. XR can be used with a smartphone -- chances are you've used it already. Amazon already offers mobile shopping experiences that incorporate XR technology. When shopping for furniture on Amazon, users can use the "Room Decorator" feature to place digital furniture in their homes before buying it.

Screenshot of a yellow couch in a living room via Amazon's Room Decorator

A yellow couch digitally places in a living room with Amazon Room Decorator.

Screenshot by Jada Jones/ZDNET

Birkenstock offers a digital try-on feature allowing users to point their phone's camera to their feet to see which color and shoe style looks the best before they make a purchase.

Screenshot of Birkenstock virtual try-on

Birkenstock Boston Clogs places on feet with Birkenstock's virtual try-on feature

Screenshot by Jada Jones/ZDNET

Low latency promises almost real-time feedback for consumers to make XR the best mobile shopping resource for retailers and consumers. 5G's low latency means minimal disruptions and sharper imagery can make the virtual try-on experience more enjoyable and accurate for consumers.

Blake says that XR working with 5G's low latency will aid in retailers offering users a more personalized shopping experience, similar to how generative AI chatbots and virtual assistants have made customer experience faster and more immersive.

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"5G could result in empowering retailers to deliver richer, more interactive mobile apps with higher quality videos, images, and animations not historically possible without sacrificing performance," he says.

Stuart Greenslade, Kyndryl UKI network and edge practice leader, says that XR will eliminate the annoying parts of clothes shopping, like waiting in line for a dressing room. But he says that retailers will also have an advantage with XR try-ons, but XR may reduce the need for physical stores.

"For retailers, it means they won't have to stock huge amounts of inventory on-site because consumers will be able to virtually try on the clothes before ordering, reducing theft, having AI suggest alternatives, matching accessories pushing baskets up and increasing accessibility of new ranges," he says.

Consumer access to 5G 

5G promises a long list of innovative speeds and benefits for consumers and retailers. But implementing 5G worldwide has challenged telecommunications companies, especially in the US.

Companies like T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T have boasted about 5G for years but have experienced many roadblocks to achieving 5G speeds.

First, many Americans lack 5G compatible devices, although the gap is closing. As more smartphone manufacturers debut phones with 5G connectivity, the chances of an American owning a 5G phone are getting higher, but not 100%.

Millions of Americans still do not have access to 5G networks due to unforgiving terrain and infrastructure, and it will remain a challenge for telecommunications carriers to reach those parts of the country.

Still, more and more people are connecting 5G as the years go on, but without total adoption, its promises could remain unfulfilled.

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