When you hear the term 5G, you may picture crisp Netflix episodes or uninterrupted Spotify playlists,brought to you on perfectly synced devices and via bufferless streaming, no matter where you are. But there’s another fascinating dynamic that comes with the 5G territory: the Splinternet. 

What is the “Splinternet?” 

“Splinternet” is a term that describes the result of governments walling off the World Wide Web to create separated, national internets. Also called cyberbalkanization, it’s an emerging trend popular with (mostly authoritarian) governments that want to censor the information their citizens can access online. The “Great Firewall” of China is the most notorious example of this practice to date. 

Some people believe the Splinternet will boil down to a competition between China and the United States as two sides of the same coin. Each country is a technology powerhouse in its own right, and both countries have widely adopted the apps and internet services created within its borders while shunning those created, and align with the nation’s ideals government, regulation, and privacy. As China and the U.S. have very different governments, regulations, and privacy policies, countries that align with Western policies will likely adopt American apps and services, whereas countries that ally with China will opt for Chinese apps and services. 

“While Chinese apps will have a hard time getting adopted in U.S. and Europe and English-speaking countries, I think they’re proving their rapid acceptance in India, Southeast Asia, South America, Middle East and even a little bit in Africa,” said Kaifu Lee, the CEO of China-based venture capital firm Sinovation Ventures, whose prior role was the head of China for Google. “So I think in five years if you look at all the people in the world that took their phone and counted how many Chinese apps and American apps, I’d say it would be fifty-fifty.” 

What’s the big deal with 5G? 

Previous generations of technology each offered a new upgrade to the world of mobile technology. 1G let us walk and talk, while 2G allowed us to send texts; 3G gave us the internet on our phones, and 4G let us stream it. 5G doesn’t add just one new layer but several improvements, including speeds up to 250 times faster than 4G, and the elimination of processing delays. It also promises a rapid leap into the burgeoning “internet of things” (IoT), where autonomous vehicles, machines, medical equipment, appliances, and sensors will be ever-synced to data without draining their batteries. 

It’s not hyperbole: 5G, like its predecessors, will introduce us to a whole new era of internet, mobile, data, and technology. 

Why does China want to get there first? 

To secure technological prowess and respect on the global map, for one thing. Throughout the years, different global powers have had the chance to introduce a new technology. In the 1990s, Europe adopted 2G before most other regions. In the 2000s, Japan pioneered 3G. And in 2011, the United States led the launch of 4G. Today, China’s “Made in China 2025” plan describes 5G as a  strategic emerging industry, a new era of growth, and an opportunity for China to become a global manufacturing leader. 

Instead of making copycat products modeled after Apple and Microsoft, China sees 5G as a way to become its own global tech giant. And that means money and jobs — lots of them. The China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, a government-run research institute, estimates that 5G will create more than 8 million jobs for China by 2030. 

If China is the first to market with 5G, it could take the global lead in new technologies and companies, much like the way Uber, Instagram, and YouTube emerged as international powerhouses after the U.S. was the first to introduce 4G. 

Is China really going to be the first to market? 

In terms of 5G actually coming to life, there’s still a way to go, but both the U.S. and China are hot on the trail. 

Chinese companies began conducting research on 5G in 2013 under government direction. Beijing and many other cities in China have given operators significant spectrum to carry out superfast speeds for 5G. Although Chinese operators don’t plan to officially start selling 5G until 2020, “history tells that [Chinese operators] ramp up very quickly,” according to Thomas Noren, who heads 5G commercialization efforts for Ericsson, one of the largest makers of mobile network equipment in the world. “They have (already) built more than an order of magnitude larger 4G networks than those in the U.S.” 

In the U.S., 5G is technically (albeit lightly) launched. Verizon started selling its own 5G service in four cities in October 2018, and AT&T plans to introduce mobile 5G service in 12 US cities by 2020. T-Mobile and Sprint say they will turn on their 5G networks by mid-2019. But in the U.S., operators pay billions of dollars for the right to use just small amounts of spectrum, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out if China rapidly rolls out 5G across its cities once it launches. 

How could this impact partner marketing? 

The exciting part about partner marketing is that it’s at the forefront of new technologies. So for one, every brand and publisher that’s part of the partner marketing and performance marketing space will benefit from faster internet speeds to get content, data, and reporting light years ahead of where it is today. Just picture what a difference email — then mobile email — made for the workforce. 5G is going to be on that kind of scale. 

Secondly, another massive change to note is that personalisation and artificial intelligence are set to rapidly increase because of the sheer amount of data that 5G is able to manage. 5G will give brands more information than ever about how their consumers shop, research, and buy. It will also inform how to market and personalize experiences for them accordingly. While this may expand how much consumer data is accessible, it may also spark clearer conversations and regulations around privacy and data. 

It will also usher in the IoT, so it’s less a far-off term and more the way consumers connect with the world around them. Every single product will have the capability of being synced to a greater collection of data, updates, and personalisation unique to its buyer. Singular marketing channels will be a thing of the past and omnichannel will be the only way business is done. 

5G will also assuredly influx a new generation of technological leaders and apps. Just as 4G created the rise of mobile-first apps like Uber, time only tells what technologies, services, and companies will come from a rapid, ubiquitous internet. 

Of course, if the internet does split into two or more global divisions, that will create interesting implications for partners on their respective sides, and how they work together (if they’re even able to). There’s a lot of talk about how divisive the new format can be but our hope is that the ever-growing world of partner marketing can inspire partners and publishers on both sides to bridge the gap and become a synchronistic versus disparate marketing universe.

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