The Role of RedCap in the Medium- to Long-Term Evolution of 5G 

March 23, 2022

The upcoming launch of 3GPP Release (Rel) 17 in mid-2022 will introduce reduced capability (RedCap), part of 5G New Radio (NR). In some ways, 5G RedCap seeks to cover the needs currently met by LTE Cat 1 through Cat 4. It’s a light version of the 5G standard.

5G RedCap is designed for use cases in which ultralow latency isn’t essential, but reasonable throughput is needed to ensure data flows for next-generation applications can be supported. It’s expected to be useful for wireless industrial sensors, video surveillance and smart wearable technology.

What Will RedCap’s Impact Be on IoT?

While the capability for RedCap will arrive with 3GPP’s Rel 17 in mid-2022, experts suspect it will take longer to roll out widely. Some IoT industry players are planning to incorporate the technology in smart wearable products right away, particularly smart watches.

Until now, these devices have typically connected to the internet via the user’s smartphone. However, the new products would utilize RedCap to link individual devices directly to the cloud. 

Other IoT developers and service providers are exploring 5G RedCap’s possibilities. They’re planning product development to coincide with new standards and needs. While 5G-enabled cellular modules are in process, the wider IoT market will likely have to wait longer for RedCap’s full development.

Capabilities with Rel 17 will remain limited. Only with Rel 18 will the technology evolve to replace solutions in the low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) segment currently carried seamlessly in 5G by LTE-M and NB-IoT. 

Further Evolution with 3GPP Release 18 

3GPP Rel 18 is expected to bring further innovation in the IoT segment after its planned release in Q1 2024. This release will initiate a reduction in 5G capabilities for use with IoT devices. From there, it will take about a year to develop the chipset rating and another year to start bringing products to market.

The promise of 5G massive IoT will probably not begin to materialize until 2026 or later. Until then, most networks plan to continue serving IoT devices with 4G technology, focusing their 5G efforts on broadband applications.  

Looking Toward a 5G IoT Future

While 5G at the IoT device level is at least a few years away, the new technology will still impact IoT deployments. It will enable stand-alone networks and fixed assets such as gateways that manage IoT sensor communications. After its release this year, early uses for RedCap, expected in 2024, will include consumer devices and some industrial use cases.

Power companies expect to pursue early 5G adoption for the grid. Its lower latency and high bandwidth are more effective at helping systems detect and send feedback to the generator, regulating power generation and distribution. 5G technology might not reach smart meters until after Rel 18, however, since their latency needs are much lower.  

By the end of the 2020s, cellular IoT, in general, could fully migrate to 5G as 4G gradually sunsets. Even now, the industry is preparing for this transition — moving away from legacy technology and toward newer standards.