Vodafone will flick the switch on its 5G network in December and it wants New Zealanders to know this isn't some futuristic, space-aged technology far removed from the present.

In an ad campaign that launched nationwide on Sunday night, the telco pulls at the heartstrings with the story of an elderly man who takes his dog to the vet.

While the audience at first believes the dog is being put down, a doctor, ostensibly based in Japan, appears to remotely operate on the animal and save its life.

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What's most remarkable is that the emotional 5G tale is that it's based on a real-world example of Chinese doctor performing the world's first remote surgery on a laboratory animal while based 50km away in January this year. The lag time between the doctor's control and robot in the surgical room was only 2 milliseconds, giving doctors the confidence by March to perform the first remote surgery on a patient suffering from Parkinson's Disease 3000km away. Doctors now believe that this technology will be invaluable in connecting people in remote regions with the best expertise available around the world.

Vodafone chief executive Jason Paris stressed it was important to understand that 5G is already here and having an impact throughout the world.

"5G is starting to shape the future of every sector," the telco boss said.

"In health with connected ambulances and remote surgery, in manufacturing with automated factories and in utilities with smart waste management or intelligent electricity networks.

"It's starting to benefit communities around the world and deliver social-good outcomes, for example through improved e-learning capabilities. We want all businesses and organisations to see what 5G can do for them."

Chinese doctors are already using the technology dramatised in the ad. Image / South China Morning Post
Chinese doctors are already using the technology dramatised in the ad. Image / South China Morning Post

Vodafone is set to beat its competitors Spark and 2Degrees to the punch in December, upgrading more than 100 cell sites across Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown by December.

Discussions about 5G have bounced from futuristic musings about robot servants to wild conspiracy theories about microwaves damaging your DNA, so Vodafone wanted to bring the debate to more relatable space.

To do this, the telco called in its ad agency DDB, which looked for a way to tell a human story showing what the tech of capable of right now.


DDB chief creative officer Damon Stapleton told the Herald that it's easy to make things look like 2001: A Space Odyssey when it comes to technology – and this is certainly the case for 5G.

Stapleton refers to it in more simplistic terms, saying "5G is a little bit like petrol" – which is to say it's the fuel that reduces the time it takes to travel from one place to the next.

"Those futuristic stories do a disservice because you want this technology to be relatable and you also want it to be useful," says Stapleton.

"It's not some distant thing that might happen. It's not a flying car. It's something that will exist here very soon."

Stapleton says that 'technology' is a ubiquitous buzzword that everyone uses, without really giving it any clear meaning.

"When you show how it can solve a problem in somebody's life, that's when technology is no longer an external thing. It becomes your story."

From 1G to 5G

Mobile technology can be traced from its first to fifth generations. Every step along the way has essentially given users a little more power.

The first generation gave us the power to call, the second generation the power to text, and the third generation the power to browse online.

It was with the introduction of the 4th generation that we were really able to see mobile phones converted into mini computers capable of running apps and streaming high definition video.

The fifth generation now promises fibre-like speed with little or no noticeable lag.