5G Will Definitely Make the Web Slower, Maybe

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Robin Rendle on

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Scott Jehl has written this wonderful piece about how 5G is on the horizon and how it could cause problems for users. But first, he starts by talking about the overwhelming positive news about it:

[…] as it matures 5G is predicted to improve network speeds dramatically. Carriers are predicting download speeds in 2019 for anywhere from 100Mb to 1 Gbit per second on average.

This is…bonkers! Numbers like this make it seem as though the web’s performance problems are merely a matter of infrastructure. But Scott continues:

Faster networks should fix our performance problems, but so far, they have had an interesting if unintentional impact on the web. This is because historically, faster network speed has enabled developers to deliver more code to users—in particular, more JavaScript code.

During the years 2011 through 2019, 4g coverage spread from 5% to 79% of the world. During that same time period, the median average JavaScript transfer size to mobile devices increased by 611%, from 52kb to 372.9 KB.

When I read this, I thought of how adding extra lanes to highways actually causes more traffic, which is equally weird and counterintuitive. But networks are like highways in this way, as Scott shows above. He continues to look at how most phones won’t be using the latest and greatest tech and we’ll always have to consider the users that are using the slowest devices on the slowest networks, regardless of how fast our connection might be:

As networks improve, we have a huge opportunity to improve the web we build, but it’s on us to take that opportunity, or squander it.

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