RedCap spec for Release 17 could expand 5G’s IoT horizons

redcap IoT 5G
Image by James Teoh | Bigstockphoto

ITEM: Last week the 3GPP officially froze Release 17 coding protocols for the 5G NR RedCap spec, which is expected to expand the IoT capabilities of 5G beyond the usual LPWA applications.

The RedCap (reduced capacity) spec is a light version of 5G NR meant to serve mid-speed 5G IoT scenarios that don’t quite fit with low-power wireless access (LPWA) use cases. The mMTC aspect of 5G enables support for LPWA use cases where sensors and meters with low data speeds require extreme coverage, low complexity and long battery life – in other words, the same basic types of IoT apps that LTE-M and NB-IoT currently support, but on a larger scale.

RedCap addresses specific use cases that have higher data and latency requirements than low-power sensors, but not so high that they need to utilize the full power of 5G’s full broadband capacity or ultra-low latency features. Specific use cases cited by the 3GPP include smart wearables, industrial wireless sensors, and video surveillance.

Analyst firm Omdia describes RedCap as “the big missing piece of the 5G IoT puzzle”, as enterprise 5G networks wouldn’t be able to support mid-speed IoT cases – enterprises would also need to deploy a separate 4G network, which would be expensive and complex. RedCap essentially expands what enterprises can do with a private 5G network.

Current RedCap features in Release 17 include low complexity (e.g. devices only need 20 MHz of sub-6 GHz bandwidth, which also means they cost less than full-on 5G eBB modules), efficient power consumption and data speeds equivalent to LTE CAT-1 or higher.

The 3GPP plans to expand RedCap’s capabilities in Release 18 with features such as faster data speeds, location positioning, direct device-to-device communications and support for unlicensed spectrum.

Meanwhile, the 3GPP completed standardization work of the upper 6 GHz spectrum (6425–7125 MHz) as an IMT licensed band for 5G NR. The 3GPP began working on the standard in December last year, and expects pre-commercial deployments of 5G in the upper 6-GHz band by 2025.

That may of course depend on what happens at WRC-23 next year, where the 6-GHz band is on the agenda, and everybody wants some. As we reported in January, the GSMA wants WRC to declare the entire 6 GHz a globally harmonized licensed band for 5G operators, while Wi-Fi groups want the entire band to remain unlicensed. The focus on standardizing the upper 6 GHz band indicates the mobile sector might settle for getting at least that portion of the band, and rely on the 3GPP’s 5G New Radio Unlicensed (NR-U) standard to enable 5G on unlicensed bands.

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