By Lexie Lu

Believe it or not, the next generation of wireless technologies is right around the corner. At Mobile World Congress 2018 nearly a dozen announcements were made by wireless providers and tech companies regarding 5G technologies including modems, radios, plans and devices. Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile all had announcements to make, alongside support plans from Microsoft, Intel, Dell, HP and Lenovo.

This is all very exciting, yes, but it also means it’s time for everyone to start preparing for the future. What are the major changes between 5G and previous technologies? Furthermore, how can you better prepare for its impending release? How can developers and designers ready their mobile apps for the big change?

5G vs. LTE vs. 4G

To first understand the benefits, you need to know how 5G is different from previous technologies. More specifically, you’ll need to understand the advancements and changes that make 5G so much more powerful.

The “G” in 5G and 4G stands for “generation,” and indicates the next iteration of wireless technologies. 2G and 3G were also separate generations, with 2G marking the beginning of text messages and advanced communications.

As you’d expect, 4G was a major advancement over 3G allowing people to do much more with their mobile devices. The change meant we could now send text messages and multimedia messages faster, browse the web more seamlessly, and even download files faster—especially large video files.

Not much later companies added LTE or “Long Term Evolution” to 4G wireless connectivity and networks. The technology was a shift from WiMax to LTE, and although it wasn’t a large enough jump to be considered a new generation, the improvements were significant enough to warrant the change. LTE essentially made 4G technologies even faster and more reliable than they were.

5G will build upon the foundation of the previous generations — 4G and LTE — to allow for dramatically increased speeds and connectivity. Many claim that the next generation will be 10x faster than 4G. This will allow near perfect wireless connections for mobile devices, so we can upload and interact with UltraHD quality and 3D-capable content.

5G will occupy frequency bands much higher than previous generations — likely up to 6GHz — which will allow for less crowded airways and much faster speeds. Some of the major benefits include:

  • Much faster, fiber-comparable speeds sans wires
  • Lower latency around one millisecond which means less interference and delays
  • Much greater wireless capacity to allow for even more devices including IoT
  • A more uniform experience for all, with a variety of coverage conditions and options
  • More opportunities for wireless connectivity thanks to lower power requirements

If you only take away one thing from this entire section, let it be that 5G mainly focuses on the Internet of Things and faster speeds for connected devices such as driverless vehicles, automated machinery, virtual reality and gaming experiences, and smart home technologies.

Preparing for the Future

Now that you understand the difference between previous wireless technologies and 5G, let’s take a closer look at some of the ways you can prepare for its arrival.

1. Ambient Computing Is Now Possible

Ambience is the idea that the surrounding environment or atmosphere is involved. Ambient sound, for example, is the sound you hear all around you at any given time. Well, thanks to the increase in power of 5G, ambient computing via wireless networks is now a possibility.

It involves digital user experiences that occur or blend into the surrounding environment and conditions. This can be facilitated and measured thanks to a variety of sensors, devices and technologies. Imagine wearable devices that remain connected to 5G wireless networks transmitting location data, biometrics, and surrounding objects and people. It could simultaneously be connected to AI and machine learning systems to deliver on-the-fly analysis and information. Watch out for the major foot traffic ahead!

Developers will have access to a host of new opportunities, as well as the option to deliver more reliable connectivity and wireless support through mobile apps.

2. Reliable Wireless Interactivity

Development for the current generation of wireless technologies revolves around several practices meant to deal with the slow nature of current wireless technologies. Granted, 4G and LTE are much faster than 3G in comparison, but they still have their setbacks. With mobile games, for instance, users still have to install a substantial data package on top of installing the game. This is true of mobile apps that require substantial data packages too.

Because of this, developers have to work in waiting periods for each of their apps with a download process. Many even recommend connecting and performing this process only on Wi-Fi, which can hinder availability.

However, once 5G rolls out, this will no longer be as necessary. Users will always have to download more substantial data packages, yes, but they can do so via the mobile network as opposed to just Wi-Fi. Furthermore, the downloads will complete much faster with more reliable support.

In terms of development, this will also change the way in which designers approach similar problems. That initial download period, for example, will be a few seconds to a minute as opposed to near hours.

3. More Devices

IoT is a hugely popular segment of the tech market and for a good reason. More aware, more connected devices are smarter and more capable. Consumers are buying-in to a variety of technologies such as smart home gadgets, wearables and wearable sensors.

Thanks to more reliable wireless support from 5G, developers will tap in and take advantage of these new devices.

4. AI and Machine Learning

Driverless vehicles will connect wireless to a remote network to access a massive quantity of data, including processing power from AI and machine learning platforms that will make on-the-fly decisions. Should the vehicle slow down or speed up to prepare for the impending yellow light, for instance?

You can see in this scenario why machine learning and AI platforms can take advantage of open connections and reliable wireless support. With the birth of 5G, developers will have even greater access to said opportunities.

5. Cloud Technology Support

The idea of software-as-a-service has largely remained accessible on desktop and full-size computers because more often than not they have access to a continuous and reliable internet connection. There are some apps and services that placate this idea on mobile, but it’s not as rampant or accepted.

However, cloud technologies will become much more prevalent on mobile which means access will open up to mobile app developers and designers for these kind of systems and platforms.

6. Streaming VR Experiences

VR technologies are really starting to ramp up in terms of adoption, not just on a consumer level but also with mobile technologies too. Sadly, it’s still very limited in terms of what can be achieved. You need to have a VR headset and download the necessary apps and data to experience truly virtual environments.

To make matters worse, streaming support through VR is largely impossible in today’s landscape because of serious latency, performance and reliability concerns. 5G will eliminate nearly all those concerns, making it not only possible but likely that VR experiences will be streamed over the airwaves. This opens up mobile developers to new options as far as delivering these kinds of experiences to their users.

7. Always-On Connectivity

By nature, 5G is more reliable than the generations before it and also more capable. That means the hardware and devices that users will have access to are less likely to disconnect from the network and greater internet. This kind of always-on connectivity means developers can take advantage of the constant access — think more advanced ambient connectivity.

Imagine an app that’s always connected through the mobile network to a server, sending data and receiving information about the surrounding areas. Apps like Uber, for example, could allow you to see where and when drivers are located around major areas, in real-time.

Imagine checking in to see if your local Wal-Mart or grocery store is crowded, for instance? This could be possible through a mobile app that reports general crowd whereabouts using location data and situational information from sensors and data access points.

The Future Is Bright

Normally, when you say the future is bright it’s a figure of speech. In this case, the future truly is bright, reliable and more capable which will be a boon to all of developers and us alike.

Lexie Lu is a freelance graphic designer and blogger. She keeps up with the latest design news and always has some coffee in close proximity. She writes on Design Roast and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner.