New Technology

The impact of 5G on web design

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5G, or the Fifth Generation Wireless Cellular Network, is coming. The technology is currently being rolled out by a number of providers across the globe and is set to reach 1.4 billion devices by 2025. Rollout to regular users will start in the UK in late 2019 and 2020, with both Three and EE announcing they will be offering 5G services to their customers. It is fairly safe to assume other networks will quickly follow suit, not wanting to be left behind.

5G – What’s the hype about?

Plenty has been said about 5G already, including some rather ridiculous scare stories. More interesting than that though is the capability that 5G brings – some of the stats are staggering. 5G offers a data transfer speed of at least 1GB/sec and up to 50GB/sec. To put that into context, the absolute maximum that 4G can handle is 60MB/sec. Remember when 4G felt lightning fast? Yeah, not anymore. Some test environments have even clocked 5G at 1TB/sec, although this is highly unlikely to be produced in reality. Even so, a 1GB/sec speed is comfortably faster than most broadband connections and will soon be available on mobile devices almost anywhere.

One of 5G’s other flagship benefits is drastically reduced latency. 5G’s average latency is under 5 milliseconds, compared to 4G’s average of 50. You can think of latency as the delay between sending information and it arriving, which is absolutely crucial when thinking about loading content from a website on your smartphone.

So, much faster data transfer and loading times. Good news for web designers and users alike.

What 5G means for your website

Let’s get into the thick of it then, what will the rollout of 5G actually mean for your website and your business? Perhaps obviously, the significantly increased data transfer speeds and reduced latency will mean that web designers have a lot more license to introduce increasingly complex visual elements to their websites.

Think a bit more ambitiously than just image-heavy sites. We can already do that on 4G with image-optimisation technology such as IMGIX. 5G’s capabilities will see websites take greater advantage of video, especially 4K video. 4K video has been around for a while but isn’t used all that much outside of specialist video sites (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.) because the loading times can be astronomical on mobile connections. 5G could see 4K become much more commonplace, perhaps even embedded into the background of a design.

5G’s extra capability could also see web designers introduce more elements of Augmented and Virtual Reality into websites. Traditionally this has been used on Apps, where the tech can be downloaded once and installed rather than loaded on a connection every time a site is accessed. With 5G’s increased speed though we could see these elements incorporated into mobile sites very soon, especially with the ever-increasing capability and usability of Progressive Web App (PWA) technology.

All of this is fairly exciting news. 5G could empower web designers to create some truly unique, unforgettable mobile experiences – and we’re all for that.

The Unintended Consequences

Whilst this isn’t really a case of drawing up some Pro’s and Con’s there are some points worth mentioning before you run off with the exciting news of 5G’s power. First and foremost, whilst the rollout will start in the UK in late 2019, that will still only be limited to a select number of big cities. EE has announced it will launch in the four capitals of the UK to start with, as well as Manchester and Birmingham. This will then be followed by Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool, Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Coventry and Bristol. This brings some obvious problems. i.e. if your users don’t happen to live in one of these hotspots then they won’t be accessing your site on 5G. We’re talking about mobile technology here though, so we’re sure things will move pretty fast.

We’ve also been thinking about some longer-term impacts of 5G’s extra speed. If page loading times really do drop down below 5 milliseconds across the board then it wouldn’t shock us to see page loading times reduced in importance in search engine rankings, perhaps even removed altogether. Don’t bet your house on this though, Google are notoriously cagey about their algorithms.

5G may also have an impact on the mobile devices we use, which in turn could impact web design. Although it may seem unlikely that mobile screen sizes will get much bigger, it is hard to rule anything out. More screen space is more chance to impress with complex visuals after all.

Exciting Times Ahead

5G is definitely exciting technology. Especially for those of us in the web design industry. The reality though is that in the short-term at least, not a huge amount will change in terms of web design and there isn’t anything you need to go away and sort right now. It wouldn’t make sense to adjust your website to 5G users at a time when only a small few will actually be using it. The sums wouldn’t add up.

It does make lots of sense though to factor 5G into your long term strategy. Investment in 4K video, Augmented Reality or even a more visual redesign could pay dividends once the technology becomes commonplace.

Our final point to leave you on is to keep your eye on 5G. As we’ve already said, mobile technology doesn’t tend to stand still for long.

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