For Positioning, 5G Reduced Capability Devices Are Less Powerful, but Much More Scalable

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2Q 2022 | IN-6571

5G Reduced Capability (RedCap) features coming in The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Release 18 are expected to support positioning for low-power devices and enable new location use cases where high volumes, power efficiency, and scalability are crucial.

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RedCap to Expand 5G Positioning Flexibility


While 5G is an incredibly powerful standard, many of its most attractive features, such as high signal bandwidth and low latency, are of little value when it comes to location for Massive Internet of Things (IoT), which instead values coverage and the low complexity, low cost, and power efficiency of devices. Among the many advancements to 5G that can benefit positioning is RedCap, supporting 5G connectivity with much lower bandwidth and complexity requirements. This was originally referred to as NR-Light and first introduced in Release 17, with many enhancements to the technology expected from Release 18 coming in 2024.

The Established Market Can Benefit from Technology Consolidation and 5G Features


Compared to baseline 5G device, RedCap devices support reduced downlink capacity requirements, a much lower signal bandwidth (20 MHz compared to 100 MHz on FR1), and a reduction in the number of required antennae for receiving signals. While this will bear a negative impact on the quality of not only positioning, but 5G signals in general, RedCap greatly reduces the complexity of devices following the specification with savings in the cost, size, and power usage of 5G RedCap modems. According to Ericsson, RedCap devices can be leveraged for between a 48% and 71% cost saving compared to a baseline device, depending on usage.

The need for high-volume, low complexity tracking solutions is becoming increasingly prevalent in tracking applications for supply chain visibility or indoor-outdoor positioning for enterprise assets. In the coming years, we can expect RedCap to provide positioning support for low-power 5G consumer devices, such as wearables and personal trackers. Many of these use cases are currently covered by existing low-power Wide Area Network (WAN) solutions, either cellular, such as LTE-M/NB-IoT, or non-cellular, such as LoRa or Sigfox. Using such networks allows wide-ranging coverage, and they are designed for low power operation, helping to reduce the complexity of devices through communications schemes that leverage the same technology for both location and connectivity.

5G networks, of course, carry these same advantages (and support LTE-M/ NB-IoT) with many additional features available to entice enterprises and service providers. The denser distribution of 5G infrastructure should improve coverage and reliability of tracking systems, while support for Angle of Arrival (AoA) positioning introduced in Release 16 can overcome many of the bandwidth-oriented accuracy issues related to current cellular positioning methods, something that is currently being trialed by Qualcomm. Where previously unavailable, the flexibility of 5G enables service providers to support baseline 5G positioning, high-precision positioning with add-on infrastructure, and low complexity tracking with RedCap all on the same network, eliminating the need for alterative Low-Power WAN (LP-WAN) solutions and providing a migration path for 4G LTE as one of the major motivations for RedCap.

Changes May Take Some Time, but Are Worthwhile


ABI Research expects that adoption and commercial production of RedCap devices will follow the finalization of the Release 18 specification (the beginning of 5G Advanced) around 1Q 2024 with an additional year for production and deployment of the technology so that 5G RedCap hits the market in 2025. It is also important to remember that RedCap will likely only come into play for low-cost, low-complexity applications, where the reduced capability of this class of device will have a noticeable impact on their positioning performance and, therefore, likely not be suitable for many use cases requiring accuracy within meters or less. Instead, expect RedCap positioning to be one option in the larger toolbox of 5G positioning solutions.

Additionally, with the widespread adoption and long-term commitment many service providers and decision makers have made toward LTE, do not expect a large migration of devices to RedCap in the next few years or a rapid (eventual) switchover. A larger shift may be seen as networks seek to phase out LTE, as they reallocate bandwidth, and as newer networks, particularly in the private space, are adopted with RedCap positioning as a value proponent. Additionally, many chipset vendors and solution providers are favoring LTE-M/NB-IoT as an available connectivity standard, future-proofed by support from 5G networks, alongside the benefits of cloud-based positioning solutions, such as Polte’s SuperRes or Nestwave’s virtual Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS).



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