What does 5G mean for Mobile Apps?

An illustrative image of the world connected.

The new generation of cellular network technologies is hitting the door and over time we are hearing more and more about it, especially in the news. Known as 5G, the wireless network of the future, this new technology has started to grow in popularity and a lot has been said about things like its improvements in comparison to 4G-LTE. But what happens in the mobile app development field? What does 5G mean for mobile apps?

 

Let’s talk!


 

To begin with and for those who are not so acquainted with the subject, 5G is the fifth generation of wireless technologies that promises faster and more reliable connections.

Many companies such as SK Telecom in South Korea and Verizon in the US have already started deploying 5G this 2019 in their respective countries, offering connectivity plans to customers in a certain number of locations, a number that keeps growing with time. In other places like Latin America, the Uruguayan state-owned operator ANTEL in partnership with Nokia successfully completed the installation of a 5G commercial network, making Uruguay the first country in the entire region to have one.

Now, let’s see how this arrival of 5G could impact mobile applications and their development.

 

Higher speed connections

Several tests have been conducted in regards to the internet connection speed that 5G delivers and some results are very interesting. In fact Verizon’s 5G network managed to reach 1 Gigabit speeds, whereas with standard LTE connection this is not easy to achieve or just unachievable. That means faster times loading and downloading apps no matter their size, enhanced web browsing, streaming videos with no lag, and better performances in applications that need access to an internet connection.

Below is a short speed test video from a user in Bloomington, Minnesota, connected to the Verizon network:

Imagine being about to board a plane, with 10 hours of flight ahead, and realizing you have forgotten to download your favorite episodes from Netflix’s Stranger Things. This would be a problem with a 4G connection, right? You will need a couple of minutes (in best scenarios) in order to have them available offline. Fortunately, with 5G top speeds, this would be fixed in just seconds as you can download every episode or film you want instantly.

 

Near-zero latency

Every developer dreams with apps that respond in a flash, meaning also quicker loading times for every action.

This brings improvements in AR/VR implementations where latency is a key factor in order to create the feeling of being in a realistic world. But it’s also a game-changing upgrade for user experiences in apps that demand a huge retrieval of data, or processing from remote servers which clearly reduces the boundaries of mobile hardware, especially in high-demanding tasks like using Machine Learning capabilities.

Going to the numbers, 5G targets latencies of 1ms or less, a milestone that would be really appreciated, for instance, in remote surgeries where every millisecond of delay counts.

 

Better file transfers

As a result of being both improved the connection speed and its latency, then sharing files between mobile devices would get better too, not only in terms of velocity but also in making this sharing more reliable with low chances of losing data in the process.

This means that more people would be willing to work on-the-go or remotely without the need of having an established WiFi connection, exchanging files large or small with partners and clients in an instant, something that makes distances even shorter than now.

Yes, you could receive a huge 5 GB file from someone on the other side of the world in less than twelve parsecs. Han Solo would be proud. Jokes aside, 5G is expected to be 20 times faster than 4G in terms of peak speed, getting quicker file transfers as an outcome. Impressive.

 

IoT improvements 

Definitely the real winner here is the Internet of Things field. Why? Because 5G promises to support almost 1 million connected devices per square kilometer, whereas 4G can only handle up to 100,000.

This brings the possibility of having, let’s say, everything connected to the same network simultaneously in the same space, including smartphones, wearables, cars, and even the city infrastructure, sharing data with each other.

The improvements of IoT are not only reduced to smart-houses or rooms (clearly these ones would benefit a lot), now you could be able to interact with the entire neighborhood by using mobile apps, like asking for a self-driving car (also connected with traffic lights and others of its kind) for transportation. If the Internet of Things is now a trending topic for mobile development, imagine how important it would be with the arrival of 5G features.

 

Enhanced performance and battery consumption

Oh, battery consumption, what are we going to do with you? Every time a new technology is implemented in mobile devices, like ARKit or ML, and no matter how good it looks, the battery seems to drain like if there was no tomorrow.

But this seems not to be the case, for our luck. If less computing is needed inside the phone terminal and the 5G network has a wider reach and stability, then mobile devices would spend fewer hardware resources, having in mind that this new network will be probably better optimized.

The same happens with performance. Connectivity would be improved in remote areas, as well as GPS and location features. Low latencies and faster speeds mean better response times for online mobile applications. Also gaming would take benefit from those things as you will be able to play high-demanding games on your phone by streaming them from servers, which is commonly known as cloud gaming. Therefore, you are not needed to own a high-end device with expensive hardware (in most cases there is no mobile phone capable of running those games) as all the hard job is done by the server. This is something already being worked on and there are several platforms offering it like Google Stadia (set to launch in November 2019). No doubts 5G will boost them.

 

Conclusion

5G is not a fully matured technology yet and we only have few experimental tests out there, so results can vary in real conditions. Even though we listed some improvements for mobile apps thanks to the arrival of 5G (but our list is not extensive at all), there are still a few challenges it will need to pass through.

Things like security and privacy (a hot topic in our days) could be compromised as more devices can be connected in the same network and more data would be shared. However, it’s pretty clear that it’s the cellular network of the future and we’ll see a lot more of 5G in these months and years to come.

We’re always looking forward to new emerging technologies and our mobile app development team is getting ready for them. What about you? What do you think about 5G arrival? Leave a comment below and tell us!