For us consumers, 5G is about higher (phone) performance, higher resolution video, mobile gaming – more ways to satisfy our consumer needs. But the real promise of IoT has always been to extend the mobile network from billions of nodes – devices people might carry/wear – to trillions of nodes: the Internet of Things. That’s a much more ambitious goal because, in addition to forcing an explosion in mobile network size, 5G must adapt to the very diverse nature of endpoints (the “things”) in those networks. From things like mobile phone and fixed wireless networks which want lots of bandwidth and “frequently on” operation, to sensors out in the middle of a field which only need to transmit or receive small packets of data infrequently. It shouldn’t be surprising that many IoT product needs fall somewhere in-between. They don’t need full 5G performance, but they have much tighter power/cost expectations than smart phones or fixed terminals. That’s where the new 5G RedCap standard becomes important.
What is RedCap?
RedCap simply means Reduced Capability. All the benefits of 5G, especially in the network, but with performance on par with previous generation LTE, at significantly lower power and cost. Tens to even a hundred megabits per second rather that full 5 gigabit speed of the standard. But what are the advantages of using 5G if you’re not exploiting speed? The answer is far superior network management than offered with LTE. Some devices need guaranteed quality of service (QoS), for safety for example. This enhanced management can be offered on a common network infrastructure through software-based network slicing, security and mobile edge computing (MEC) options. Slicing can provide tiered levels of QoS without need for adding more hardware cost to the network. MEC moves traditional cloud compute functions into the network to reduce congestion and improve cost and latency. For example, security and AI functions can be provided in local gateways. Private cellular networks are another possible application, where ultra-performance may be less important than the advantages of enhanced security, improved availability and coverage and slicing options turned to need of that network.
What sorts of IoT applications could benefit from these enhancements? Industrial sensors in factories and the grid, surveillance monitors, automotive applications, ehealth and medical monitoring devices. All have some level of criticality in information they share or must respond to. Yet all these applications are in markets very sensitive to cost and power. RedCap aims to help IoT product builders find the right balance for their needs.
One concrete example is for automotive telemetry. We usually think of cellular applications in vehicles for V2X – the vehicle communication with other vehicles or infrastructure for safety, navigation, traffic management. These require dedicated support for Side-link communications and require similar performance as with 5G Redcap (hence is some cases can be implemented using same or similar chips). Telemetry is a quite different application. The telematics box (T-box) is an established piece of electronics in modern cars, responsible for remotely connecting vehicle functions and more. These systems use cellular technology, and emerging systems are starting to use 5G. Here telematics can handle over the-air updates, collect and communicate vehicle statistics and schedule service when problems are detected. It is estimated telematics communication link volume will exceed that of V2X, and it is very much suited for the Redcap performance envelope.
I’m ready, where do I sign up?
This sounds great but RedCap isn’t fully ratified yet; ratification is expected around the middle of 2022. Any devices released before that time must be LTE-compliant to be useful at reasonable cost and power. But does that then mean the communication function must be completely replaced when RedCap is about to come on-line? Such a change could be expensive, in schedule and development cost. Is there an option to build your product with a communication system which can operate in LTE but can switch easily to supporting RedCap? Perhaps with a software update or a simple respin? Many product builders are eager to find such a solution, a communications link that will help them put products on shelves tomorrow with a smooth migration to 5G RedCap when the standard matures.
Future-proofing for RedCap
There’s always risk in planning for a next generation without undermining near-term revenue, but that risk can and should be manageable. Maybe you should talk to us at CEVA when you’re building your 5G cellular IoT product plans. We already have many years of experience in cellular technologies and a customer list to match.
Find out more with PentaG2.