This is an expanded article that was originally published with the Forbes Technology Council, which you can find here.
The industry buzz surrounding 5G technology and its impact on the next generation of connectivity and services is exhilarating, and that excitement is not only shared among consumers but with developers, tech-driven enterprises, and carriers as well. According to a study conducted by GSMA in early 2019, 5G will account for 15% of the global mobile industry by 2025, with a predicted 1.4 billion devices operating on a 5G network. For the mobile app development industry, the introduction of 5G networks will not only influence the way people use mobile apps, but it will also present new opportunities for developers. Looking ahead, 5G will allow developers to explore, build new platforms, and create apps that will offer faster, more personalized user experiences.
This post will specifically look at the benefits of 5G technology that will enhance the functionality of current mobile apps and how these benefits will impact and influence the development of future mobile applications. Furthermore, we’ll dive into our top predictions on what’s next for 5G, and how COVID-19 may be giving carriers and developers the boost they need to start rolling out the technology.
5G is not a modified version of 4G; instead, it’s an entirely new network infrastructure. 5G holds the potential to revolutionize the way mobile networks function.
5G networks promise to strengthen mobile connectivity and improve the smartphone experience for users by delivering faster data sharing, with connectivity speeds that reach approximately 10 gigabits per second. That is 10 times faster than existing wireless technology. High-speed data transfer will completely change the way people communicate. But for mobile app developers, speed isn’t the only thing that will present new possibilities in how apps are developed. Some other notable benefits include the following:
Delays are a cause for concern among mobile device users, especially when these devices and their networks are being used to make critical decisions in real-time. Current 4G networks have an average latency of 50 milliseconds, whereas 5G networks will cut the latency to just one millisecond, leading to less network interference and delays.
Connection density refers to a network’s ability to support the successful delivery of several messages, even in a highly-populated area. Currently, 4G networks can only support roughly 2,000 connected devices per 0.38 square miles, and as the average number of connected devices per user is expected to increase (e.g., smartwatches, smartphones), the number of devices 4G can support simultaneously will become increasingly inadequate. 5G addresses this inadequacy by having the capability of supporting up to 1 million connected devices in the same space.
With the release of 5G connectivity, mobile apps will not only be able to function more efficiently, but they will be better situated to integrate and use technologies like augmented and virtual reality to their fullest capabilities. 5G will enable developers to create richer user experiences, which, ultimately, is a deciding factor for using an app or deleting it altogether. With the high speed and low latency that 5G networks offer, developers can provide end-users with exceptional user experiences. For example, video and gaming apps will require less buffering time, which allows for experiences to be more immersive and responsive. Increased network speeds and the ability to handle more data will enable mobile app gamers to download gaming packages over a cellular network instead of being required to download over a Wi-Fi network.
5G will enable developers to integrate other technologies into apps more effectively. Specifically, the app market will likely see a rise in cloud-based applications. As the tasks we require our smartphones to complete become increasingly complex, having the ability to create apps that can effectively use the cloud as a means for data storage will redefine how and when apps can be used. Essentially, by placing the app’s data within the cloud, users can access and run apps without having to install them on their devices physically. This means that the physical limitations of a device’s processing power and internal hardware won’t dictate whether an app can be used or how efficiently it will run. Again, this makes the experience more enjoyable for end users.
While 5G holds the potential to revolutionize the way the mobile world functions, telecom providers have been slow to roll out the technology, offering limited 5G service.
Telecom providers have been hesitant to build out capacity for 5G technology because they haven’t been confident that demand from consumers is there. However, because of COVID-19, the 5G market may materialize sooner than expected. As large numbers of people have been forced to isolate, an increase in working and studying from home has been stressing networks and creating higher demand for bandwidth. With this in mind, here are our predictions for what the future holds for 5G.
For the first time, this type of technology might be more beneficial for businesses than consumers. As telcos continue to struggle to market 5G as a differentiated service from 4G, immediate opportunities will arise for telecom enterprises to create new and emerging revenue opportunities from public areas where there is a high density of users and traffic. For example, airports, train stations, conference facilities, stadiums, and amusement/theme parks.
To that end, expect to see a considerable uptick in 5G announcements from carriers bringing 5G into specific locations and creating what can be considered as smart spaces.
IDC reports the worldwide wearables market will top nearly 500 million units by 2023, pointing to a steady and continued rise in the popularity of wearables amongst consumers. Major tech companies, including Amazon, Google, and Facebook, are working on an array of wearable devices that will offer consumers the same functionality of a smartphone through multiple touchpoints including video, AR and VR, apps, and search.
Over the next year, we’re likely to see an onslaught of wearables that leverage 5G’s enhanced capacity, connectivity, speeds, and minimal latencies, and begin to replace many capabilities of smartphones. Over a longer period, smartphones may lose their sole place with consumers as the “go-to” source for their digital needs.
Automotive, smart infrastructure, manufacturing, and healthcare are sectors that are expected to see the biggest impact of 5G in the future. Gartner predicts that the automotive industry will become the largest market opportunity for 5G IoT solutions in the future, representing 53 percent of 5G IoT endpoints by 2023.
In Europe, the 5GCAR project, led by Ericsson, is helping to develop an overall 5G system architecture. As part of their work, they identified several new use cases that need 5G to unlock the future of transportation, from lane merge coordination to long-range sensor sharing and increased protection for pedestrians. 5G will also make manufacturing cars easier through secure and almost real-time connectivity that will result in transformative productivity, speed, and efficiency improvements.
Wider adoption of 5G means more data is collected, and more often. But it also means there’s more opportunity for data breaches.
With critical functions relying on 5G, like healthcare, utilities, and more, any security threat is more than an annoying lack of connectivity. Network downtime can result in injury or ill health.
Network security has become a hot topic at mobile shows like MWC and is one of the main concerns for many CTOs. Now, there is a huge opportunity for innovation around ensuring network security for 5G networks. Expect to see a growing number of players in this space in the later part of 2020 and beyond.
While it will be some time before users, developers, and businesses can enjoy the advantages of 5G fully, the technology will play an integral role in helping developers meet evolving user demands. As mobile apps continue to advance, 4G technology simply won’t be able to support the massive amounts of data being created. 4G is already showing signs of being overburdened, as many studies show that network speeds drastically fluctuate throughout the day based on how many users are connected. If you’re currently relying on this technology, it may be worth exploring your options in the 5G technology world.
To support the next generation of mobile applications, 5G and its promise of higher data transfer speeds, lower latency, and increased connection density will be the only way to provide users with richer user experiences. That, for businesses, should translate into increased user retention rates and app revenues in the coming years. As 5G network launches begin to accelerate, opportunities for an emerging market for every component, device, and software service necessary to facilitate the data-intensive environment of 5G will continue to appear.