5G technology is widely considered a revolutionary introduction in the field of telecommunications and connectivity. The revolutionary aspects of 5G technology include support for faster data speeds, reduced latency, enhanced capacity, massive IoT connectivity, network slicing, and edge computing. 5G technology has the potential to drive the development of disruptive applications and services, including augmented and virtual reality experience, smart transportation solutions, remote healthcare and more.
The full extent of the benefits of the 5G technology revolution is in the upcoming 5G evolution release. The first step in the 5G evolution was the ratification of 3GPP Release 17, which introduced lot of optimizations in addition to the support for NR SideLink and 5G RedCap. The second step will be in the form of 5G-Advanced and eRedCap as part of 3GPP Release 18, expected to be ratified in 2025.
Significance of RedCap and eRedCap
5G RedCap technology combines a balanced mix of capabilities, including throughput, battery life, complexity, and device density, making it a cost-effective solution for diverse use cases that may not require the high performance of regular 5G technology.
As highlighted in the above table, RedCap definition as per 3GPP Release 17 is similar to LTE Cat 4 performance and capabilities. As such, it is suitable for applications such as high-quality video streaming, online gaming and other applications that require significant bandwidth. Maximum configuration of RedCap will support 150Mbits/s bandwidth and can serve many applications without requiring the higher cost 5G eMBB.
To serve most of the cost-sensitive IoT applications that are powered by batteries and require limited bandwidth, we have to wait for eRedCap as part of 3GPP Release 18.
These enhancements will be aimed at providing improved support for the use cases introduced in Release 17 but also enable the expansion into new segments of use cases. Expected as part of 3GPP Release 18, it is two years out and will offer 10MHz and 5MHz bandwidth and will enable support for applications being served today by LTE Cat 1 and even LTE Cat M.
Drivers for Adoption
The benefit of RedCap/eRedCap is not just the link speed/bandwidth of the device itself because they are similar to LTE speed categories. The attraction is the ability for RedCap/eRedCap based services to be on the same 5G platform which allows orchestration of “everything” on the 5G Core. This everything includes 5G edge computing, private networks, network slicing, etc. And the level of control on the administration of the 5G network is significantly higher than is possible under LTE.
Mobile Operators’ Motivation
Mobile operators are currently not making more from 5G handset services as the market commands only price points similar to LTE. Offering more services such as described above will enable mobile operators to monetize the heavy investments they have made with 5G technology infrastructure. From the infrastructure side, supporting RedCap is mostly a software upgrade for the mobile operators.
Consumer Side Motivation
5G RedCap opens the door to new and innovative applications that were not practical or feasible with LTE. Users can enjoy a new generation of experiences such as AR/VR-based applications, remote machinery, smart city services, and more. With more efficient use of spectrum and advanced technologies like beamforming, 5G is expected to be more energy-efficient than LTE, resulting in better battery life for user devices. As 5G networks continue to expand and evolve, migrating to 5G ensures that users will have access to the latest advancements and technologies in cellular communication. 3GPP Release 18 aims to optimize and enhance the 5G IoT ecosystem even further, thus enabling even more efficient and scalable connections for various IoT use cases, ranging from smart cities to industrial automation and remote surgery. Complexity is dramatically reduced for a RedCap device compared to an eMBB device. For example, 5G RedCap devices will need single or dual antennas compared to 4×4 MIMO antennas for 5G eMBB devices.
Nonetheless, supporting RedCap on the device side requires RedCap chips.
Contrasting Decisions on RedCap Chip Implementation
The implementation of 5G RedCap and future 5G eRedCap technologies has been a topic of considerable interest, with different geographical regions adopting diverse approaches. The graph below shows RedCap device volume projections.
Right now, there is a big push for industrial networks, private networks and enterprise networks on the 5G platform. This may be the opportunity pull that those companies proceeding with developing RedCap chips may be counting on.
Global 5G Evolution Motivations and Expectations
While China is taking a rapid and enthusiastic approach to RedCap implementation, particularly with the adoption of Release 17, worldwide market volumes are not expected until 2026-2027 timeframe. China’s motivation lie in gaining a competitive advantage in 5G technology development and deployment: bolster domestic technology capabilities, reduce dependency on foreign suppliers, and achieve self-sufficiency in critical infrastructure.
The transition to new silicon technology involves significant investment and requires assurance of its market readiness. Nevertheless, Chinese companies, supported through funding from the government are forging forward with developing 5G RedCap chips and intending to sell at $3-$4 unit price. This compares to about $10 price point if produced outside of China. This will allow RedCap in China to replace sockets served by LTE until now.
Western Countries’ Approach
Western companies are exhibiting hesitation in fully embracing RedCap technology. Many are waiting for the release of 5G Advanced and eRedCap (Rel 18) and real deployment volumes to justify their adoption. They are cautious about committing to RedCap before fully understanding its long-term viability and potential compatibility issues with other technologies. The conservative approach stems from several factors, including market considerations, technological uncertainties, and regulatory challenges.
CEVA’s Platform for RedCap Implementation
If you’re looking to build a 5G modem solution, check out our PentaG2 platform that supports all aspects of 3GPP Release 15 through Release 17. It comes in two configurations. The PentaG2-Lite configuration is targeted for RedCap and low-end LTE (Cat M). This configuration is more compact and leaner and offers flexibility for power optimization and HW/SW partitioning. The PentaG2 Max configuration is targeting high-end eMBB use cases such as handsets, CPEs and FWA as well as low latency URLLC use cases in industry, V2X and emerging XR applications (3GPP Release 18 draft).
As 5G networks continue to expand and mature, the true extent of 5G technology’s revolutionary impact will likely become even more evident in the years to come. As 5G evolution continues, we can expect innovative applications and services for a more connected and intelligent world.
China is proceeding at a rapid pace to develop 3GPP Release 17 specified RedCap chips with the goal of deploying RedCap technology early on into its 5G networks, while western countries seem ready to leap straight onto the 5G Advanced version of RedCap to be announced as part of 3GPP Release 18. Both camps are driven by different motivations and considerations as outlined in this article, but a common requirement is a flexible 5G modem platform solution that adheres to the evolving standards.
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