What Are the Use Cases of and Who Are the Key Contributors to Passive IoT in 3GPP 5G-Advanced?

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2Q 2023 | IN-6930

Passive Internet of Things (IoT) could be the key to connecting a massive number of devices in 5G-Advanced and potentially 6G. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is currently exploring use cases and Radio Access Network (RAN) design for passive IoT, and is receiving increasing interest from numerous contributors due to its potential significant impact for IoT, as well as creating new use cases for enterprise 5G.

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Combine Passive IoT Technologies with 3GPP 5G-Advanced Systems


The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is currently investigating the integration of passive Internet of Things (IoT) technologies into the cellular system to enhance the capabilities of the IoT. Passive IoT, also known as ambient IoT, is a type of IoT technology that does not require a power source on the terminal devices. Instead, it relies on backscattering and energy harvesting to function. For more details, interested parties can refer to ABI Insight “Could Passive IoT Be the Killer App for 5G-Advanced?”

The concept of passive IoT enabled by cellular networks was first introduced by Huawei, and China Mobile with BMW to discuss the motivation behind it during the RAN#93 meeting in 2021. At the same time, all three Chinese operators and NTT DOCOMO, along with several Chinese companies, such as Huawei, Spreadtrum, CATT, Tencent, vivo, and Quanray, proposed a new study on passive IoT for 5G-Advanced at the SA#93-e meeting. In subsequent meetings to the recent RAN#99 meeting, many other key industry players, including Qualcomm, OPPO, and Nokia, have made continuous contributions to 3GPP on two related Study Items, i.e., FS_Ambient_IoT_RAN (Rel-18), which is studying ambient IoT in RAN, and FS_AmbientIoT (Rel-19) with the title of “Ambient power-enabled Internet of Things” to study use cases. The full standardization of passive IoT is expected to take place from Release 19, when the official Study Items will be completed.

Who Are the Key Contributors to Passive IoT?


The 3GPP Study Items on passive IoT are focused on investigating two crucial aspects: use cases with their associated service requirements and the design of the RAN to meet those agreed use cases. The latest version of the Technical Report (TR) 22.840 concludes with 30 use cases on cellular passive IoT, while TR 38.848 studies several topologies and deployment scenarios in its RAN study. The key contributors to this study include:

  1. Use Cases and Service Requirements for Passive IoT: OPPO (rapporteur), Huawei, Nokia, ZTE, China Mobile, KPN, Vodafone, Qualcomm (device categorization), Intel, InterDigital, Wiliot, Apple, Sharp, Convida Wireless, LG Electronics, vivo, Xiaomi, Alibaba, BMW, BOSCH, China Southern Power Grid, EDF, Haier, and Tencent.
  2. RAN Study for Passive IoT: Huawei (rapporteur), Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung, ZTE, NEC, China Mobile, China Telecom, CATT, KT, NTT DOCOMO, Vodafone, Qualcomm, Intel, Spreadtrum, Apple, OPPO, Lenovo, Sierra Wireless, Xiaomi, vivo, Fujitsu, and Philips.

The use cases for passive IoT cover a wide range of applications, including end-to-end logistics for premium products featuring asset tracking, animal-related use cases, such as smart farming and tracking animals in wide parks, personal belonging tracking within smart homes, device activation and deactivation, and smart grids.

New SEP Opportunities


ABI Research believes that 3GPP passive IoT may emerge as a major opportunity for the killer app for 5G commercialization. After the completion of Rel-19 by the end of 2025, it is estimated that it will take an additional 2 to 3 years, including the development time for the full TS, for 3GPP passive IoT to be commercially launched. Once this happens, the related technologies could become valuable Standard Essential Patents (SEPs). The RAN study emphasizes the crucial role of User Equipment (UE) in the new topologies for passive IoT, serving as a reader or assisting data transmission between passive IoT devices and base stations. The essential technologies required for new RAN designs will significantly influence numeric devices, including both passive IoT sensors and new UE.

Several key contributors to 3GPP passive IoT are likely to overlap with SEP declarants for those related technologies. For example, KPN, Vodafone, and Huawei have several contributions to TS 33.163 - Battery Efficient Security for very low throughput Machine Type Communication (MTC) devices (BEST), and they have also declared a few SEPs for TS 33.163 in the ETSI Database, according to ABI Research's analysis of previous IoT TSs. Another example is TS 38.351 - NR; Sidelink Relay Adaptation Protocol (SRAP) Specification, with both Huawei and ASUSTek 3GPP contributors and SEP declarants. Therefore, understanding the key contributors to passive IoT will provide a good indication of future competition dynamics in the area. Moreover, because Huawei has introduced the topic to 3GPP, it may likely be that the Chinese vendor may emerge as a strong holder of SEPs in passive IoT. Given the geopolitical challenges Huawei is facing at the moment, the progress of passive IoT may be affected by this barrier. However, if passive IoT does indeed become a success, it may become a strong bargaining asset for Huawei in the global SEP market.