AT&T says it conducted the first 5G Reduced Capability (RedCap) data call in both its lab and in the field on a live 5G standalone network. The carrier says RedCap technology holds a lot of promise for the burgeoning internet of things (IoT) ecosystem.
While it seems kind of amusing to brag about “reduced capability,” RedCap fits between the high capability of 5G networks and the low capability of IoT networks that provide connection for devices such as simple sensors. RedCap is sometimes referred to as "New Radio Light," according to a blog post today by Jason Sikes, AVP of Device Architecture at AT&T.
The whole IoT ecosystem is littered with confusing acronyms. So, perhaps some clarification is necessary.
- At the highest level, you can find sophisticated devices such as iPhones and autonomous vehicles. These devices use LTE and 5G technologies.
- Then there’s a middle tier of IoT where devices need a medium-level of bandwidth. Some examples of devices in this middle tier include some industrial IoT devices, smart home systems, wearables and even low-cost phones and tablets. This is where LTE-Cat 4 plays and also where RedCap technology will fit.
- Finally, at the lowest level of IoT, there are myriad devices such as low power sensors that require very little throughput. And perhaps this is the level of IoT that most people think of when they think of IoT. An example of devices at this level are water meter sensors, which just need to report a water level once per day. This is the low-power wide area (LPWA) category, where many people use LTE-M technology. The “M” in LTE-M stands for machine-type communications. Sikes said, “It’s really that most power-sensitive class. They don’t have a high need for capacity or throughput but need to be available for a long time.” Narrow-band IoT technology would also fit in this lowest tier of IoT.
It’s not just AT&T working with RedCap. The technology is a specification in 3GPP Release 17, and other operators are interested as well.
5G RedCap is designed for devices currently served by LTE Cat-4, but it provides equivalent or better performance with up to 150 Mbps theoretical maximum downlink. It also allows devices to operate at lower power levels, and devices designed for RedCap can also be smaller and more energy efficient.
Since RedCap is a new technology, there are no commercially available RedCap devices yet. “The milestone we just hit is a first,” said Sikes. “We are a bit away of when an actual commercial device is available, but we have to start somewhere.”
For the 5G RedCap data call that AT&T recently conducted, it worked with MediaTek at a chipset platform level, connected to an AT&T live 5G SA network built with Nokia AirScale.
At the end of last year, AT&T said it had about 100 million IoT devices connected on its networks, and that has since grown to 117 million.
“We see continued growth,” said Sikes. “It’s incredible the variety. Most people’s mindset is on phones. But in the IoT space the variety of devices is incredible, nearly anything you can think of — a tractor in the field.”