RedCap Revisions Promise 5G Wearables on the Market by Mid-2023

Article By : Dan Jones

3GPP has developed a 5G NR chipset specification update that will serve wearables, surveillance cameras, and high-end wireless IoT sensors.

New Radio Reduced Capability (NR-RedCap) is a forthcoming update from the 3GPP (3rd Generation Partnership Project) that could promote the development of 5G smartwatches and other wearables, as well as IoT devices such as security cameras, which have previously been best served by 4G LTE networks.

RedCap is part of the latest Release 17 5G update from the 3GPP standards organization. The specification has been delayed about nine months, thanks to Covid-19. It is now expected to be frozen in the second quarter of 2022, which means the first devices commercially available using RedCap would be on shelves by mid-2023 at the earliest.

What exactly is RedCap? Reduced Capability refers to the lesser bandwidth needed by 5G devices using this update. The current 5G NR radio access specification can only support 100 MHz channels, whereas RedCap devices can run in a greatly reduced 20 MHz channel.

Some potential 5G wearable applications require connectivity of moderate capability and moderate cost. That combination hadn’t really been addressed by previous 5G specs. (Source: Sierra Wireless)

The idea behind RedCap is to define a new, less complex NR device for wearables and higher-end IoT applications that will offer faster data transmission speeds than Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technologies like Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) and LTE Machine Type Communication (LTE-M). RedCap units won’t approach the speed of multi-Gigabit 5G NR devices but will be less expensive than current high-end 5G smartphones.

 


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Gus Vos, Chief Scientist at Sierra Wireless says that he thinks of RedCap as providing a 5G NR version of a Cat 4 LTE device. “It’ll probably…end up being a $20 [chipset],” Vos says, “hitting between a 30 and 80 megabits per second kind of range.”

This puts RedCap devices in the middle ground between multi-gigabit 5G NR chipsets that cost “several hundred dollars” and forthcoming sub-$10 NB-IoT chipsets, Vos notes.

RedCap chipsets are also expected to be minuscule so that they can be implemented in wearables. Consumer giants such as Apple and Samsung haven’t yet announced 5G smartwatches or other wearables using the RedCap chips, but that would seem to be a logical next step.

Over time, this means that RedCap chips could also be used in medical wearables that are currently using 4G LTE chips, or those being updated from sunsetting 3G connectivity now!

Ericsson notes that RedCap chipsets will be available in 5G wearables, industrial wireless sensors, and video surveillance cameras. Sierra Wireless’s Vos expects that the first RedCap chips will be “repaints” of existing 5G NR chips, that will use a different front-end, support limited bands, and reduce costs as much as possible.

It will take longer to introduce RedCap chips that support both sub-6GHz and millimeter Wave (mmWave) frequencies with just 1 antenna, rather than the standard 4 cellular antennas for NR. Vos says that vendors that want good battery life for wearables with the initial RedCap chipset repaints will find them wanting, initially. Vos says the “real RedCap” will be further miniaturized and deliver better battery life but will take longer to get to market.

Expect, however, to see the initial RedCap products by the middle of 2023.

This article was originally published on EE Times.

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