How is 5G Impacting App Development?

Faster smartphones demand faster networks to keep up with the increase in demands for gaming, high-definition streaming, and loading speeds. App development is unavoidably affected by these demands and, with the arrival of the 5G network, the industry will undoubtedly feel the impact full-force.

The advent of the 4G network, back in 2008, took the world by storm. Never-seen-before browsing speeds, faster online gaming, better smartphone connectivity, and smooth, high-definition streaming and video calls were some of the revolutionary advances 4G contributed to our tech-dependent lives. So it was only natural that, after a few years of experiencing the benefits of this cutting-edge technology, people began to expect even more dynamic experiences. And, as it often happens with most IT-based products, their rapid evolution is always paralleled by the increasing demands from the public. Hence, the fifth generation of cellular networks, the 5G network, was introduced in late 2018. 

As 5G continues to spread around the globe, infrastructural changes get implemented, and the number of smartphones upgrading to 5G rises. This rise means that the hype over a faster mobile network is slowly but surely becoming a reality, and its adoption is finally gaining momentum. In fact, 5G Americas estimates that 5G connections will reach 600 million worldwide by the end of 2021 and more than 3 billion by 2025.  

The 5G network brings massive improvements that cover all the benefits of its predecessor, plus faster upload/download speeds, higher performance, and overall better user experience. As was the case with previous technological advances that are now obsolete, this advanced network was designed to meet the world’s never-ending demands for more speed. However, regular consumers aren’t the only ones exhilarated by this next generation of connectivity. Since the awakening of 5G networks undoubtedly influences how people use smartphones and apps, app developers will have new opportunities to innovate and leverage 5G technology to deliver better-performing apps that will offer better user experiences. This way, the app development industry can become the gateway for users to experience the groundbreaking benefits of 5G fully.  

Due to 5G’s importance for the app development world, we at Foonkie thought it relevant to explain precisely what 5G app development is and discuss its impact on our industry and the future of mobile applications.

5G must be an updated or revamped 4G network, right? Most people believe this is the case when actually, 5G is not just an upgraded version of 4G. Sure, 5G is the numerical evolution of its predecessors, and yes, it is the next generation of telecom networks, hence the “5G” name (as in the fifth generation). However, 5G is an entirely different network infrastructure that will establish the latest global wireless standard for speed and efficiency. It was proposed and created by 3GPP, an organization that defines cellular specifications and is known for its deployment and maintenance of previous 2G, 3G, and 4G networks. 5G has also set a new air interface, 5G NR (new radio), that sets the standard for modern wireless communications opening up broader and more adaptive bandwidths. This will help redefine the entire scope of modern mobile networks by providing quicker downloads, more robust mobile connectivity, lower lag and latency, and faster and more reliable data sharing. These benefits come with connectivity speeds that reach approximately 10 gigabits per second, that’s ten times faster than the existing 4G network. 

All of 5G’s potential perks will provide a significant improvement on the way we live, interact with modern technologies, work, and even play online. The connectivity benefits that 5G will bring to the table are revolutionary and by far exceed those of previous networks. But what makes it different enough to cause such a revolution? For one, as stated above, 5G’s primary attribute is its speed. High-speed data transfer makes information more readily available, which has the potential to revolutionize how humans communicate. This phenomenon will surely make businesses more efficient and education more straightforward and more accessible. In addition, it can release workloads across several industries, broaden the scope of what healthcare systems can do, and give consumers of global goods and services access to more information faster than ever before. 

Furthermore, 5G was designed to provide more capacity for our digitized lives. It also aims to enable a new kind of network that will connect virtually everyone and everything, all internet-connected machines, objects, and devices included. This way, we’ll see the rise of self-driving cars, smart cities, immersive AR for businesses and healthcare systems, immersive education and training programs, and the rise of a massive IoT ecosystem with billions of connected devices. 

Additionally, 5G supports up to a million devices connected per square kilometer. In comparison, 4G supports only one-tenth of that capacity, meaning that slow network connections and speeds will be a thing of the past. More specifically, 5G uses unique radio frequencies that 4G did not use. These frequencies open up a new spectrum of never-seen-before speeds that support 5G’s increased capacity for transferring data faster, with more precision and less latency. We’ll dig further into this aspect later on.

You must understand that all the attractive benefits derived from 5G don’t mean it is a standalone network that automatically replaces its ancestor or will have immediate worldwide coverage. 5G did not render 4G obsolete automatically and will not take its place for a while. As 5G slowly rolls out, it needs to be built on top of existing 4G networks, which means that early implementations of 5G result from a combination between upgraded 4G networks (called 4G LTE Advanced) and 5G. This amalgamation of the two networks is called 5G NSA (Non-Stand Alone) because it requires 4G at its core to function, so it doesn’t stand on its own…yet. In other words, 5G needs, but is gradually replacing, 4G LTE and will eventually overtake it completely, with experts saying we’ll see a total 5G SA (standalone) coverage in 53% of the world by 2025. 

So, the actual 5G network deployment is 5G SA. Once the network works independently and breaks away from 4G, it will deliver its full potential, such as high throughput, massive IoT, low latency, network slicing, etc. However, you must understand that whether it’s 4G LTE Advanced, 5G NSA, or 5G SA, you will only get the network’s full benefits if the infrastructure equipment that enables the connection and your device uses the same standard. This way, if you have a 5G SA phone but your country still only has 4G infrastructure installed, you’ll still get a 4G connection, regardless of your phone’s 5G. When the 5G SA network, and its compatible devices, become widely available to entire territories, connections will switch to an exclusively 5G network. Until this moment, we will witness the actual disappearance of 4G. 

As far as where the world is today regarding 5G implementation, according to 5G Americas, there are currently 172 global 5G network deployments, with Europe leading the way with 82, followed by Asia with 36 and the US surprisingly far behind with 10. Additionally, they report that the world had 401 million 5G subscribers by the end of 2020, which is surprising considering the economic and social whirlwind caused by the pandemic. Their report also shows that 5G adoption tripled the subscription rate of 4G LTE, which required five years to reach those same 401 million adopters. Lastly, if you want to check real-time worldwide 5G deployments and roll-outs, you can go to Ookla’s 5G map and witness how fast–or slow–different countries are embracing 5G.

5G’s Impact on App Development

By now, it’s clear that 5G is set to revolutionize our entire technological landscape and the way we communicate and interact with mobile devices and internet-powered machines. So, as our mobile-powered bits of technology, apps are obviously not immune to this revolution. With 5G technology in the limelight, it’s logical to expect a complete transformation of the entire mobile app development industry and its practices. After all, with 5G’s enhanced connectivity, mobile apps will not only function faster and better, but they will be more suited to integrate with advanced technologies such as augmented and virtual reality. As a result, 5G technology will bring about a new interconnected web of always-on devices that transfer data in real-time using a new standard of speed and reliability.

5G app development will also enable developers to reach unheard-of levels of creativity and innovation driven by the high speed, low latency, and immersive experiences that will completely transform the app market in upcoming years. For example, high-quality video and images will require less buffering time, which, thanks to 5G’s high speeds and data handling, will enable users to fully enjoy their apps over a cellular network instead of requiring a Wi-Fi connection. These and other unique aspects of 5G will allow developers to create more meaningful user experiences, ultimately deciding whether or not a mobile product gets the expected adoption rates. 

So, let’s dive into some of the most significant ways 5G will impact the app development industry.

5G will Enable Low-Latency Communications

Latency is commonly understood as the amount of time it takes a network to respond to a request, such as loading a video, playing an online game, or loading a website. In a tech-driven world, where people look for immediacy and speed everywhere, communication delays caused by latency can be a problem. And for app developers, in particular, latency is a common cause of concern. Global efforts to reduce latency started with the introduction of 4G, but they never fully realized them because low latency wasn’t the network’s primary objective. However, with 5G, ultra-low latency has been a crucial part of its development. As of right now, we saw response times of around 60-70ms (milliseconds) in 3G networks, while with 4G, they’re at roughly around 30-40ms. With 5G, we’re looking at a latency of 1ms under ideal circumstances. To give you some context, it takes about 13ms for our brains to process and identify an image seen by our eyes. With 5G’s ultra-low latency, users can transfer large amounts of data in real-time regardless of where they are or how many users are connected to the network.

5G’s near-zero latency will significantly impact how we interact with mobile apps and how industries and systems that require network connectivity will function. Low latency is crucial, not only for gaming and watching videos but for times when app users must make critical decisions in a matter of seconds via their devices and networks, which is why it will become especially relevant for healthcare app developers. For instance, in a healthcare scenario, delays could be deadly if physicians are waiting too long for feedback from an app or if they’re attempting to control unresponsive machines or IoMT devices. This way, 5G will bring to the table a new era of remote medical services where deadly delays are no longer an issue.

Things like telesurgery, 3D test results, virtual reality, and medical robots will become the norm to release workloads in healthcare systems across the globe. On that same token, 5G’s low latency will also drive telehealth services forward by providing an ultra-reliable alternative to current slower technologies that might mean the difference between life and death. And, with ultra-low latency, Wi-Fi may even become useless in some cases where 5G will perform faster and better than most Wi-Fi connections. High-quality images and videos will load faster, video chats and calls will have better quality, and international money transfers will be instant. 3D implementation will be swift, 4K will go mobile without overloading the networks, and optimal app performance levels will be easier to implement and maintain. These factors will change the way app developers optimize their UX/UI design, their coding and testing practices, and even how they use APIs and third-party services. 

These never-seen-before latency levels achieved by 5G open the gate for radically new experiences and opportunities for app developers to fully deliver the potential of their apps. Under ideal circumstances, 5G could solve latency issues for all apps and improve user experience in levels unheard of until now. However, even under non-life-threatening circumstances, low latency is crucial for the overall user experience. Studies have shown us that even a 1-second delay could cost developers $0,08 per user and 49% of app users expect their mobile products to respond to requests in 2 seconds or less. So app developers across all disciplines and skills, from mobile gaming and virtual reality experiences to factory apps, IoMT, and even self-driving cars and their apps, will see their mobile products achieve their full potential.

Easy Integration With Advanced Technologies and Cloud Computing

The 3GPP conceived 5G with an extraordinarily mobile and hyper-connected society in mind. It was designed to accommodate emerging use-cases and create new business models that connect everyone and everything, including houses, cars, robots, and industrial and medical equipment. However, integrating all these elements and implementing the technology needed to use them in an app is no easy feat, and until the birth of 5G, it was nearly impossible. Fortunately, thanks to its speed and low latency, 5G is set to enable app developers to integrate different technologies into their apps more effectively without increasing their complexity, network demands, or demanding specific hardware requirements. As a result, we will see the rise of cloud-based apps, the evolution of the internet of things (IoT) into the internet of everything, and technologies like augmented and virtual reality will become customary instead of today’s luxury. Therefore, app developers can consider integrating more human-to-machine and machine-to-machine interactions into their apps without incurring extra storage or processor demands. 

Cloud technology is one of the primary enablers for these newfound integration capabilities that app developers will now have. As developers reap the benefits of 5G and easily integrate more advanced technologies into their apps, smartphones will be required to perform more complex tasks. In addition, with cloud technology finally realizing its full potential, developers will create apps that can fully use the cloud as a means for fast and efficient data storage. Therefore, we will see developers become crucial in the rise of fully 3D apps, virtual and augmented reality gaming and medical apps, industrial internet of things (IIoT) apps, and 4K (even 8K) video resolutions that load in an instant. 

Having unlimited cloud storage options will redefine app usability because people can access and run them without installing them on their phones. As a result, the existing physical limitations of a device, such as battery and processing power, and internal storage and hardware, won’t dictate the limits of an app’s usability. And, since the cloud is one of the most trustworthy data access and storage platforms, users can now access and store their information securely, fast, and smoothly. This last aspect of 5G’s cloud-enhancing capabilities will surely help developers with data security concerns and compliance. 

Additionally, as immersive technologies become necessary, developers will also use 5G-enabled apps to leverage emerging use cases. Things like apps for 3D printing for 3D models, fully remote work environments, autonomous cars, smart cities, industrial robots and machines, and even remote surgery, to name a few, will be more widely used. Almost every industry can benefit from an app that contains cutting-edge technologies without sacrificing speed, smoothness, and quality. By harnessing the power of 5G technology, app developers will have the tools to deliver more robust apps that help address the needs of modern enterprises and users effortlessly. They can build faster and smarter cloud-hosted apps that, in no time, will become everyone’s favorite and which no one will be able to live without. 

5G Promotes High-Speed Communications

The paradigm shift that 5G technology is bringing will significantly impact all industries across the globe. It will open doors of innovation and bear a transformation partly defined by app developers and the type of mobile products they ship. Not only can developers leverage the two advantages mentioned above, but they will now work at incredible speeds. As 5G evolves and breaks away from its dependence on the 4G infrastructure, its astonishing speed will increase. Estimates put 5G SA download speeds at almost 1000 times faster than 4G, potentially reaching 50Gbps (Gigabytes per second). To put this number in perspective, with a download speed of 10Gbps, you could download an entire HD film in less than a second. Sure, these are just estimates, but even the most conservative testers have put 5G speeds at several dozen times above 4G. And there have even been tests that have shown astronomical speeds. For instance, the UK’s 5G Innovation Centre witnessed around 1 Tbps (terabit per second) in a test environment. That’s roughly 65,000 times faster than typical 4G speeds and, even though that’s just a theoretical speed, it would enable you to download a file around 100 times larger than an entire movie in just 3 seconds. 

The extra push these impressive speeds will bring to the app development game are manifold, but they mainly lie in increased performance, faster downloads, and enhanced app productivity. Mobile app developers will enter a new era of freedom to build more flexible, highly responsive apps with near-zero latency and top speeds. Delivering apps that perform at high speeds means the possibility of including more features and better quality images and videos that will, without a doubt, enhance the user experience. Users will now be able to transfer and download any file or app, regardless of its size, without being tethered to a Wi-Fi signal. Similarly, video chat and meeting apps, which have become almost compulsory lately, will no longer depend on strong Wi-Fi, simplifying remote work transitions. App developers can now encourage users to take advantage of these added benefits by implementing interfaces that enable users to confidently download songs, videos, academic material, simulators, and games. Once they’re hooked, app retention rates will likely skyrocket.

5G high-speed data transfer and communications also open up opportunities for developers to fully realize the potential of streaming apps. Today, services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime depend on the speed and bandwidth of the user’s Wi-Fi or mobile internet connection. Streaming 4K, 8K, 3D, and high definition video requires extensive amounts of data that Wi-Fi modems and even fiber connections struggle with. 5G has the potential to remove streaming lags altogether, allowing these services to increase the resolution of their material and even sets the ground for developers to introduce new, more advanced streaming apps. Even IoT devices, which generally don’t require high-speeds to work, will be able to connect to more devices and increase the scope of what they can provide to their users.

5G Comes With Greater Bandwidth

5G technology promotes all the unheard-of benefits exposed previously using high radio frequencies, shorter wavelengths, and wireless frameworks. Let me explain. As you probably already know, wireless network signals are sent through the air using radio transmissions between a base station antenna and a central operator. These radio frequencies travel through a spectrum broken up into bands, and each band has specific features, and as we move up into higher frequencies, the network performs better. 4G technology uses frequencies below 6 GHz (Gigahertz), while most 5G networks use frequencies of about 30 GHz or more. This difference in frequencies is crucial because lower frequencies limit how much information their radio waves can carry. When that limit is reached, the network slows down until someone leaves the network or decreases their navigational speed. We have all experienced this problem when trying to use our phones during concerts or crowded events. However, with 5G, there’s more” space” to use, meaning there’s more room for speedy connections with decreased risks of overcrowding the network. 4G, for instance, supports up to 2,000 devices in a 0.38 sq. miles area, whereas 5G supports up to one million or more devices in that same area. If data traffic grows at about 60% per year with an increasing number of people streaming 4K videos and using more connected services, the need for 5G bandwidth becomes evident. 

For app developers, this increase in bandwidth means that developing apps with low connectivity issues in mind is a thing of the past. 5G-enabled apps will perform at their top speed and quality without needing solid Wi-Fi connections or sacrificing quality due to poor network performance. Not only that, but developers can now ship apps with more engaging and responsive interfaces, which will help with user retention, adoption, and a significant increase in the chances of the said application achieving success. Additionally, integration with complex technologies will be more straightforward, and things like virtual and augmented reality, AI-powered apps, responsive chatbots, IoT, and immersive gaming will finally be achievable. They will indeed become points of inflection in app adoption. 

5G’s bandwidth unleashes an entirely new arena for 5G smartphones and app development practices along with fantastic connectivity, high speed, and low latency. Furthermore, since this feature operates at its finest under high data-driven situations, apps will now perform optimally when users access features such as 4Kor 8K streaming, remote surgery, 3D, or gaming. This capacity to handle high-data traffic is unheard of and will surely be one of the tipping points for the app development industry. Finally, thanks to 5G, modern apps will morph into media-rich tools that deliver outstanding user experiences while allowing developers to experiment freely and reach levels of innovation and creativity that will undoubtedly push the app development sector into industry 4.0

As you’re probably thinking right now, 5G will completely turn development practices around. These are only some of the ways it will accomplish that we at Foonkey thought were the most relevant. However, here is a broad look at some other ways 5G could impact app development that we didn’t widely cover in this article but that are still important we include:

  • Extended Battery Life: With 5G’s increased connectivity, high speed, low latency, and decreased hardware dependency, battery consumption will reduce significantly, allowing users to worry less about battery consumption and interact with apps longer.
  • More Accurate GPS: 5G’s improved coverage and connectivity gives fast and highly accurate results, which is essential for GPS-enabled apps. 
  • Greater Overall User Experience: All the factors, features, and benefits mentioned above have one common objective: improving user experience. Apps will be more immersive, feature-rich, sophisticated, and valuable, all without increased demands on a device’s hardware specifications.
  • Ambient Computing: Ambient computing will be one of 5G’s most significant accomplishments. Ambien computing is the union of software, hardware, machine/human interaction, AI and machine learning, and user experience to create a symbiotic environment where machines and humans interact and are always connected. In other words, ambient computing is the internet of everything. It combines household, workplace, and internet-connected devices that surround us and supplement each other to provide a connected experience.

Challenges With 5G Adoption in App Development

Security Issues

Every emerging technology comes with its increase in security risks. 5G is no different. Given its highly distributed connections, bandwidth, and high-speed communications, we’ll see a rise in the number of connected devices and networks. As a result, more data will be transmitted across apps connected to 5G networks, and much of these data points might contain personal and sensitive information that hackers could intercept. For this reason, obvious safety concerns arise as developers must give special attention to potential cybersecurity issues. In addition, developers must ensure their apps are failsafe and meet all security and compliance requirements with even more rigor to raise sturdier safety walls and minimize the increase in security threats.

Establishing 5G-Based Business Models

5G will completely shift the way people from all businesses and industries work. However, the app development sector is set to be one of the most impacted ones. The current business model that most modern app developers work under is designed for 4G technology. Consequently, for many developers looking into 5G app development, this business model may prove insufficient in helping development companies unleash 5G’s true potential. The network speed, and all the benefits that 5G is anticipated to bring forth, is, without a doubt, going to demand development company business models to update and adapt to the changes in practices, tools, and operations.

Human Talent Acquisition

The paradigm shift that 5G will bring to the development industry includes new skills and aptitudes for developers working on 5G-enabled apps. Integration with elements such as augmented and virtual reality, 3D, 4K, and 8K, IoT, cloud computing, AI and machine learning, and VR, among others, will require special knowledge and skills that will reduce the size of the qualified talent pool. In addition, there will be a learning curve with 5G development. Developers who want to keep innovating and stay on top of the industry’s highest standards must learn and adapt to the changing landscape of modern technological changes.

Multiple App Versions

You must understand that 5G technology will not roll out and be the sole mobile network anytime soon. The change to 5G is happening gradually, and although it’s happening faster than with 4G, it’s still going to take a while before the earth is an exclusively 5G planet. Additionally, you need to keep in mind that not all your users will have the means to immediately buy a 5G smartphone or purchase a 5G plan from their providers. There will also be areas with slow–or no–5G adoption, while other regions may have 5G implementations that still do not fully work to their full potential. Therefore, some app users will have devices fit for 5G apps, while others won’t. Ones will have a 5G device but no 5G connection, and then some are still working on 4G and even 3G connections. As a result, app developers will need to create multiple app versions to encompass the entire scope of their market, which may be cumbersome, but it’s the only way to avoid leaving some users out of the loop. At least until 5G is the predominant mobile network.

Final Thoughts

As our world evolves into a more IT-centered way of life, mobile apps will continue to advance and become more future-rich and robust. Hence, it was a matter of time before 4G technology became incapable of supporting the massive amounts of data created and transferred every day. 5G came right on time to take the torch and carry us into a world where all our day-to-day interactions are powered by connected communications between us and the gadgets that support our everydayness. And while it may be some time before we see full 5G coverage, developers and businesses can slowly adapt the practices and models that will enable the birth of 5G-enabled apps. 

Furthermore, we can safely conclude that 5G was the only way to support the inevitable fully digitalized future that has been on the way for some years. 5G networks open up an entire realm of possibilities for innovation and creativity for the app development industry. Thanks to 5G, developers will have a boundless universe of tools at their disposal to explore, build new platforms, and ship apps that will become increasingly inherent to users’ lives. And as 5G network launches and implementations begin to accelerate around the globe, we will witness a rise in opportunities for emerging markets, use cases, and even new technologies. These three things will further propel the delivery of more complex apps to handle the data-intensive environment of 5G.

We understand this subject is complex, and there are still many questions and doubts about what 5G will bring to the table in terms of all development. So, if you have any questions or concerns or want us to start working on your new app, drop us a line!

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