How Does 5G Work and How Does It Impact Web Design?

Posted on December 13, 2023 | Updated on April 18, 2024

It can be difficult to keep up with technology’s pace today. While virtually everyone has heard of 5G and likely has a basic understanding of what it is, its technicalities and broader implications are less clear. Despite — or perhaps because of — that disconnect, it can be helpful to ask, “How does 5G work, and why does it matter to my business?”

As 5G becomes more common, its impact on web design will become significant. Developers must learn how and why it’ll change their field now to prepare for the future.

How Does 5G Work?

The “5” in “5G” signifies that it’s the fifth generation of mobile networking technology. This shift is more dramatic than similar upgrades in the past, though. Not only do these new networks offer faster speeds and better performance than their predecessors, but they do so by working differently.

How 5G Works: The Basics

The basics of how 5G works are similar to other networking technologies. Cell stations transmit data over radio waves to devices using the same wavelength. However, these fifth-generation networks introduce several new technologies.

One of the most important of these innovations is orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM). OFDM splits information across multiple frequencies instead of sending it over a single channel. That way, these networks can deliver more data at once, which users experience as faster speeds.

The base stations in 5G networks also have more antenna elements, letting them manage more data simultaneously. This leads to higher bandwidth and lower latency. It also means you need a 5G-capable device that also has multiple antenna elements to receive these signals.

5G also relies on a bigger network of smaller towers to transmit data instead of a few big stations. It’s also capable of network slicing, where administrators split a single 5G network into multiple parts to serve separate needs.

5G vs. 4G LTE

To fully understand how 5G works, it helps to compare it to more familiar, older networks. The differences are most evident in their respective performance. 5G is up to 100 times faster than 4G LTE and has latencies almost 200 times lower.

Those stark differences come from variations in how these networks work. Older networks can’t reach the same speeds because they have fewer antenna connections to manage data between devices. They also can’t split networks or use as many simultaneous channels, but 5G doesn’t have these limits.

5G’s use of small cells has interesting implications in the real world, too. Because these networks use different wavelengths and more distributed infrastructure, they transmit more data but can only do so over a small area. 4G LTE, by contrast, transmits less information over a longer range. Consequently, 4G may be slower, but it reaches farther — at least until the world sets up more 5G small cells.

What 5G Means for Web Design

These differences in how 5G and 4G LTE work mean web design will have to adjust as the former becomes more popular. Here’s what that will look like.

More Mobile Traffic

The most obvious implication of how 5G works on web design is a bigger emphasis on mobile users. Even with older networks, mobile devices account for over 50% of web traffic today. As 5G makes these connections faster, people will use their phones for more online applications. Optimizing for mobile becomes all the more important as a result.

Mobile optimization must drive web design, not be an afterthought if websites hope to survive the 5G era. Prioritize testing tap and swipe features, ensure the site works on a vertical screen and smaller size and move away from pop-ups.

It’s a good idea to design a website around mobile experiences first, then look at desktop functionality as a secondary version. That may seem backward from most development standpoints today, but 5G will make mobile the norm. The shift is already happening, but faster mobile speeds and higher bandwidth will provide the final push.

New Media Opportunities

5G’s speed and bandwidth improvements also open the door to more functional mobile sites. More specifically, apps and mobile browser sites can handle more bandwidth-hungry media than previously possible. Capitalizing on these opportunities is key to making the most of the shift to 5G.

At its simplest, 5G’s impact on media means mobile sites can support ultra-HD videos, higher streaming framerates and larger image files. Developers don’t have to stop there, though. Looking beyond to capitalize on the potential of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will pay off.

AR has the most near-term potential in the mobile space, as it doesn’t require any equipment outside the phones people already use. AR Features like virtual try-ons and in-camera measurements take advantage of 5G’s capacity to offer new, helpful services to users. Offering these solutions before competitors gives sites a crucial edge.

Higher Interactivity

Similarly, websites should take advantage of how 5G works to encourage more interactivity. Interactive content both engages audiences and provides useful insights to optimize marketing campaigns or personalize experiences. While you don’t need fast speeds for all interactive elements, 5G’s speed, latency and bandwidth open new possibilities.

Because 5G supports more data to more devices in a single area, it lets mobile sites handle more simultaneous traffic. Developers can take advantage of this by creating community experiences like interactive watch parties or real-time collaborative projects.

Mobile gaming will likely see a significant boost from these upgrades. Even non-gaming businesses can capitalize on that trend by building more live gamified elements into their sites or mobile apps. These features will drive more user interaction, leading to higher customer satisfaction and richer data pools.

App Opportunities and Challenges

5G’s growth will affect more than just websites optimized for mobile browsers. It also provides new opportunities for dedicated apps.

Higher data throughput on mobile networks means apps can stream more content instead of running it locally. That way, app developers don’t have to rely as heavily on phones’ hardware limitations. They can design more computationally intense features and still run them smoothly through 5G connections to the cloud.

The transition to 5G also introduces some unique challenges. Because of how 5G works, only specific, 5G-capable devices can use these networks. Older, 4G phones don’t see any of the benefits. As a result, devs may have to design multiple versions of their apps — one for 5G phones that relies more on streaming content and another less streaming-dependent 4G version.

Demand For Faster Response Times

As more people grow accustomed to 5G’s speed, it could also challenge some developers. The possibility of faster load times isn’t just an opportunity but a call for improvement. If sites and apps don’t capitalize on this ability, they may fall behind the competition and turn users away.

Already, a one-second delay can lead to a 16% drop in user satisfaction, and these expectations will only rise as technology advances. When users become more used to faster, 5G-powered load times, those that don’t likewise improve will stand out. What’s fast today will be outdated tomorrow.

In light of this shift, it’ll become more crucial than ever to optimize site responsiveness. Compressing files, implementing lazy loading, using browser caching and simplifying designs will still be necessary, even with 5G’s speeds and latencies.

Learn How 5G Works to Prepare for Tomorrow’s Demands

New networks bring some obstacles, but their potential is hard to ignore. Businesses must learn about these changes today to prepare for a successful expansion in the future.

Learning how 5G works is an essential step in keeping up with technology. When developers can do that, they can adapt to evolving user needs to remain competitive.

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