This article will provide an overview of the 5G RedCap NR standard and analyze the key reasons why the 5G RedCap is critical for the broad adoption of 5G in IoT applications.

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Introduction

Since the first 5G New Radio (NR) network was launched in April 2019, the 5G standard has been widely adopted across the globe. Omdia forecasts the global 5G connections will reach 633.5 million connections at the end of 2021. However, most 5G connections have concentrated heavily on consumer smartphones and fixed wireless access (FWA) products. Compared to the 5G adoption in consumer smartphones, 5G adoption in the Internet of Things (IoT) has remained slow since the first 5G NR IoT module products were launched in late 2019.

Unlike smartphones, the many IoT use cases do not need the high-performance offered by the 5G standard. Instead, many IoT use cases require a 5G standard that provides less complexity and fewer features than the high-performance 5G standards in the market today.

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has been developing a light version of the 5G standard named 5G Reduced Capability (RedCap) NR to address this need. This article will provide an overview of the 5G RedCap NR standard and analyze the key reasons why the 5G RedCap is critical for the broad adoption of 5G in IoT applications.

What is 5G RedCap NR?

The 5G RedCap NR refers to the 3GPP's 5G device specifications with reduced features compared to the high-end 5G device specifications—enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) and ultra-reliable and low latency (URLLC)—published in earlier releases. It was first included in one of the 3GPP Release 17 Study Item: "Low complexity NR devices" in June 2019. The 5G RedCap was initially called by different names: NR-lite, NR-light, or Industrial Wireless Sensor Networks (IWSN). However, the term is standardized to "5G RedCap NR" in most 3GPP documentation.

Below are the key 5G RedCap features in the first release (3GPPP Release 17):

  • Lower device complexity, resulting in lower device cost
  • Improved power consumption
  • Data transmission rate at least no slower than the LTE Cat-1 standard

The initial 5G RedCap standard use cases in the first release (3GPP Release 17) are listed below:

  • Industrial sensors: pressure sensors, humidity sensors, thermometers, motion sensors, accelerometers, and actuators
  • Surveillance cameras: smart cities, factories, and other industrial locations
  • Wearables: smartwatches, rings, e-health related devices, and medical monitoring devices

The 3GPP is working on adding new 5G RedCap NR features in Release 18. Below are some of the new features that are being considered:

  • Higher data transmission rate compared to the data rate specified in Release 17
  • Positioning: location-based service applications (e.g., asset tracking)
  • Device to device protocol (sidelink): a device (e.g., wearable) can directly communicate with nearby smartphones or connected vehicles
  • Support for unlicensed spectrum: access unlicensed spectrum band

Omdia analysis

  1. Mid-speed devices are optimized for many IoT use cases
  2. The tables below show the number of approved 4G LTE Cat-1 and Cat-3,4 devices at AT&T. The mid-speed 4G LTE standards (Cat-1, Cat-3,4) are the most popular and widely used cellular IoT standards in the United States and many developed countries.

    Table 1: Number of certified LTE Cat-1 devices at AT&T

    Product type

    No. of approved

    % of approved

    Alarm

    72

    14.8%

    Asset tracker

    90

    18.6%

    Camera

    14

    2.9%

    Consumer

    23

    4.7%

    Gateway/router/modem

    98

    20.2%

    Medical/healthcare

    18

    3.7%

    Other

    6

    1.2%

    Phone

    23

    4.7%

    Remote monitoring

    70

    14.4%

    Retail

    15

    3.1%

    Terminal

    6

    1.2%

    Utilities (meters)

    6

    1.2%

    Vehicle

    44

    9.1%

    Total

    485

    100.0%

    Source: Omdia

    Table 2: Number of certified LTE Cat-3,4 devices at AT&T

    Product type

    No. of approved

    % of approved

    Alarm

    22

    2.3%

    Asset tracker

    27

    2.8%

    Camera

    16

    1.6%

    Consumer

    168

    17.3%

    Gateway/router/modem

    354

    36.5%

    Medical/healthcare

    6

    0.6%

    Other

    5

    0.5%

    Phone

    52

    5.4%

    Remote monitoring

    33

    3.4%

    Retail

    19

    2.0%

    Terminal

    104

    10.7%

    Utilities (meters)

    7

    0.7%

    Vehicle

    157

    16.2%

    Total

    970

    100.0%

    Source: Omdia

    The 4G LTE Cat-1 and Cat-3,4 standards offer optimized data transmission rate, battery life, and competitive hardware price in one package. In comparison, the 5G standard currently does not have a standard for mid-speed applications like the LTE Cat-1 and Cat-3,4 counterparts in the 4G standard.

  3. Low device cost is essential for 5G IoT market adoption
  4. At the time of writing, many popular LTE Cat-1 and LTE Cat-4 module products are selling for under $30 per unit at many part distributor websites. In comparison, 5G eMBB modules in the websites sell for more than $300 per unit.

    The price gap between the 4G and 5G modules is one of the essential factors—if not the most crucial factor—that will continue to limit 5G adoption in IoT applications. However, the complexity of the 5G standard presents a limitation on narrowing the significant price gap between the 5G and 4G modules. Hence, to reduce the price gap between 4G and 5G devices, there is a need to develop a 5G standard with fewer features and reduced hardware complexity. The 5G RedCap with reduced complexity will give hardware vendors a viable option to establish a 5G IoT device that can compete with its 4G counterparts in price.

  5. Without 5G RedCap, 5G NR is missing a key technology piece for IoT

The figure below shows the 5G diagram by technology. The 5G standard currently does not have a mid-speed standard that can co-exist with the high-performance eMBB and ULRRC standards and low-end massive IoT (NB-IoT, LTE-M) standards.

Figure 1: 5G standards by technology type Figure 1: 5G standards by technology type Source: Omdia

Not having a mid-speed standard in 5G poses two issues:

  • In the short term, enterprises looking to deploy a mix of 5G-level high-performance devices and mid-speed devices must deploy two (4G and 5G) separate networks. Deploying two networks creates extra management costs and creates complexity in network security.
  • There is no upgrade path for existing 4G Cat-1 and Cat-4 devices to migrate to 5G NR networks. Since most service operators do not have immediate plans to phase out their 4G networks, this issue is not a primary concern. However, this issue will become a more critical factor in a few years.

Conclusion

The first release of the 5G RedCap specifications (from the 3GPP Release 17) is scheduled to be finalized in June 2022. Considering a lead time from standard finalization to a first product release is less than two years, the first 5G RedCap NR hardware (a chipset or a module) product is expected to come out in late 2023 or early 2024.

The ongoing release of 5G RedCap NR devices will ensure that 5G can offer a broad spectrum of technologies, including a cost-effective, versatile standard for mid-speed IoT applications. Since the timely launch of the 5G RedCap standard will be critical to the successful adoption of 5G in IoT, Omdia will continue to monitor the development status of the 5G RedCap and provide updates in the regularly published Cellular IoT Market Tracker.

Appendix

Further reading

Apple Inc., RWS-210504, “Views on Redcap Enhancements for Rel-18,” 3GPP TSG RAN Rel-18 workshop, Electronic Meeting, June 28–July 2, 2021, retrieved August 3, 2021.

Ericsson, RP-191047, “NR-Lite for Industrial Sensors and Wearables,” 3GPP TSG RAN Meeting #84, June 3–6, 2019, Newport Beach, California, retrieved August 3, 2021.

Ericsson, Study Item 860035, “Study on the support of reduced capability NR devices,” 3GPP TSG RAN Meeting #90e, December 7–11 2020, retrieved August 3, 2021.

Nokia, RP-190831, “Key directions for Release 17,” 3GPP TSG RAN Meeting #84, June 3–6, 2019, Newport Beach, California, retrieved August 3, 2021.

Nokia, RWS-210116, “RedCap / NR-Light Enhancements in Rel-18,” RAN Rel-18 Workshop, June 28–July 2, 2021, retrieved August 3, 2021.

Paul Lambert, “As 5G growth accelerates, CSPs have new opportunities for network differentiation and service growth,” Omdia blog, July 7, 2021.

Qualcomm, RP-190844, “NR-Lite for Rel-17 Qualcomm views,” 3GPP RAN #84, June 3–6, 2019, Newport Beach, California, retrieved August 3, 2021.

Samsung, RP-191175, “Motivation for NR-lite: IoT over NR,” 3GPP TSG RAN Meeting #84, June 10–14, 2019, Newport Beach, California, retrieved August 3, 2021.

Xiaomi, RWS-210267, “Evolution of RedCap in Release 18,” 3GPP TSG RAN Rel-18 workshop, Electronic Meeting, June 28–July 2, 2021, retrieved August 3, 2021

Author

Christian Kim, Senior Analyst, IoT

askananalyst@omdia.com