Hong Kong’s SmarTone launches 5S – no, that’s not a typo

smartone 5s

ITEM: Forget 5G – SmarTone has launched 5S.

Not a technology so much as a marketing device, 5S is meant to position SmarTone as a customer-focused cellco delivering all the key performance metrics that matter the most to customers – of which blazing fast data speeds is only one.

There are five such metrics, and they all begin with the letter S (see what they did there?):

  • Speed (LTE-A at up to 700 Mbps, which SmarTone intends to boost to 800 Mbps via Licensed Assisted Access technology, which it has been trialing with Ericsson)
  • Stability (consistent performance)
  • Seamlessness (smooth gaming and video experiences with no picture break-up or stalling)
  • Security (via services like Call Guard and ST Protect that block spam calls and mobile threats)
  • Service (which includes free powerbank rentals and screen replacement)

The 5S campaign maintains that these comprise “the new standard that the overall mobile experience should be measured against”.

Or, as the TV ad’s first line says, “Is speed the only thing that matters?”

It’s fairly easy to see what’s going on here. It’s partly an unsubtle attempt to get a head of the 5G game in terms of mindshare – 5S isn’t 5G, but there is a “5” in it, and as SmarTone (like its rivals) trials and tests actual 5G technologies, all players in this hypercompetitive market want to be seen leading that charge. And as 5G won’t be commercially ready standards-wise in any meaningful sense for a couple more years, the next best thing is a campaign that associates your brand with “5” in the minds of consumers.

I’m just guessing, of course. But it’s hard to believe that with 5G around the corner (and the tendency of cellcos everywhere to want to be first on the block with the next big technology advance), SmarTone’s marketing team arrived at “5S” by sheer coincidence.

That said, SmarTone’s other goal here is to de-emphasize the importance of speed as the defining metric for mobile broadband service. That makes sense because SmarTone knows full well that as mobile broadband evolves to the gigabit era and beyond, speed will eventually cease to be an effective differentiator – partly because soon all cellcos will have the same capability (although that’s always been true to an extent), but mainly because most consumer apps today run well on LTE-A. And if you haven’t noticed, vendors and operators are already working to beef up LTE-A to levels that will come close to the 5G throughput and latency metrics outlined by the ITU.

Maybe some customers will still think that 1 Gbps connectivity sounds more impressive than 800 Mbps, but they’re not likely to switch service for that reason alone if their current service provider’s 800 Mbps connection works just fine.

That’s assuming speed is the only metric they care about. And for a lot of consumers, they only really care about speed because they associate it with consistent performance – they want apps and videos to run smoothly, and they want that no matter where they happen to be. Consumers assume that’s all to do with the radio downlink speed, but cellcos know there’s a lot more to it than that.

SmarTone isn’t about to bore them with the details, of course – and there’s no reason they should. But the obvious objective with 5S (apart from the implied 5G association) is to move away from data speeds as a competitive differentiator and focus instead on the whole experience – a stable and reliable network that just works everywhere, plus useful customer support and good security.

Whether SmarTone actually lives up to its 5S campaign promises is, naturally, another matter. Either way, it will be interesting to see how consumers (and the competition) respond.

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