5G, touted as the most disruptive technology of modern times, is gradually becoming widely available around the world. So we asked, what is it? how is it different to 4G? and how will it affect the mobile app industry?
What is 5G?
5G is the newest wireless networking technology that phones, cars and all other devices requiring a cellular network connection will use in the coming years. It will replace 4G, and is the 5th generation of wireless data communication, hence the name '5G'. Rollout in major cities around the world began this year, with availability expected to become more commonplace in 2020 and the years following.
How is 5G different to 4G?
At the moment no one can be certain about how fast 5G will be in reality, however all estimates predict it to be considerably faster than 4G. 5G aims to offer cellular data transfer rates of 10 Gbps, which is huge improvements on 4G which reached speeds of 100 Mbps. That means that theoretically it will be 100x faster than 4G. Essentially, it will be like having top of the range fibre broadband without the need to install physical wires, and available on the move.
- Lower Latency
In short, this is the response time between a user selecting a command and the relevant media beginning to load. Slow latency is particularly problematic for online games where lag is perceptible. Latency improvements will be important for new data uses such as self-driving cars, which will be covered later. On 3G response times were typically around 120 milliseconds and on 4G they were closer to 50/60 milliseconds. 5G aims to reduce this to 1 millisecond, making it almost perfect and completely imperceptible.
- Greater Capacity
5G improvements are by no means all about speed. What is equally important is the network's capacity to support huge numbers of devices at once, and being able to maintain the same performance. If you've ever been to a music festival or a big sports event you will know that 4G connection can be something of a myth when lots of people in one location require data.
With technological advances there is a demand for more devices that use data; for example with the development of smart cities, everything from lamp posts to buildings and transport will need to be connected to a network. 5G has the upgraded capacity to deal with all these extra devices.
Which apps will benefit from 5G?
On the whole, the responsibility of integrating 5G into apps falls more onto phone manufacturers and their operating systems, rather than developers. However, developers will need to carefully consider how they add features to their apps that are made possible by 5G, especially in the early years following its introduction when many have not upgraded to the new technology.
Nevertheless, we have picked out several categories that will benefit from this much improved wireless network connectivity.
- Streaming and Video playback
One of the most important factors for the retention of entertainment apps is download speeds. 5G will remove streaming lag possibilities, which will have apps like Netflix and Youtube on the edge of their seats in anticipation of its mainstream adoption.
Google recently announced their plans for Google Stadia, a subscription service much like that of Netflix or Spotify, but for video games. Users will be able to stream games, instantly share live footage of their gameplay, and instantaneously switch devices, picking up from the same point they left off. Whilst this was met with some scepticism, largely revolving around the network speeds needed to achieve smooth gameplay and transitions, this problem would be far less troubling with 5G.
We should therefore expect to see gaming apps that include online play and device fluidity see an increase in users with the introduction of 5G.
Even drones will work better, being able to relay video streams back to the mobile device controlling it at speeds much closer to real-time.
- VR & AR
Whilst VR & AR apps are nothing new, their mass-adoption has left a lot to be desired; and this can mainly be put down to how well they operate. Even AR success stories such as Pokemon Go often frustrated users with serious lag issues. Not only will these apps benefit from faster download times allowing them to display more virtual or augmented information, but they will become far more usable due to the reduced response times to user's prompts.
- File Transfer
This doesn't take much explanation - faster speeds and upgraded reliability should make file transfer apps such as Dropbox and WeTransfer far more popular, as users can rely on their mobile apps to do the jobs that might have previously been left for their PC or laptop. Transferring money through mobile banking should also become hassle free.
Mobile healthcare is revolutionising the industry; saving time and resources for both patients and staff by allowing mobile appointments and remote monitoring. However, this can lead to additional strain on the networks of businesses, surgeries and hospitals, especially for healthcare providers that might be dealing with dozens of patients a day. Poor quality communication could have serious ramifications which is why the induction of 5G is necessary.
It will allow healthcare apps to facilitate much more reliable video appointments, and allow for the transfer of large files such as medical imagery in real-time. 5G will also be able to deal with further features being added as this industry develops, thus cutting costs and making healthcare more convenient and accessible.
The greater capacity of 5G will make apps for festivals and concert venues far more usable. Whilst many large-scale events often have apps, much of this is usually made available offline to cope with 4G's inability to function properly when there are too many devices connected to the network. Now these events have the opportunity to encourage far more interaction during attendance, and be assured that their communications should reliably reach their customers.
- 3rd-Party Gadget Apps
With more devices now using internet connectivity, we should expect to see an increase in apps that control these remotely. For example, apps for smart homes will likely become more commonplace as connectivity is improved. Will 5G enable total integration of all this new technology through our mobiles?
- Killer Apps
Technological advances always bring with them the opportunity for further innovation. Whilst many current apps and services will be improved by 5G, what remains to be seen is if developers will find a way to harness the technology to create new unanticipated applications.
Perhaps the possibility of these 'killer' apps, that will change the way we interact with our mobiles and the world, are what we should look forward to the most.