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Until recently, 5G was focused on super high-speed networks. Now an effort has begun to expand it deep into IoT networks. Here's what IT planners need to know.

Creators see 5G New Radio Reduced Capacity (RedCap) as crucial to the emergence of the fifth generation of wireless telephony that has until recently focused squarely on super-fast data nets.

How? By attracting seas of IoT devices to 5G.

But some technology research and consulting firms see a bigger picture, viewing 5G NR RedCap as a reduced set of features that don’t clearly align with the needs of current and projected devices for deployments such as large sensor networks, industrial systems, and wearables.

For enterprise IT managers, the evolution of 5G beyond its early phases is paramount to their business and technology plans. But when it comes to NR RedCap, that evolution may not appear real for many years – and then be overkill for those seeking lower-speed IoT networks such as LPWANs.

What is 5G RedCap?

To date, 5G is known for its super-fast data throughputs, super-low latency, and features for super high-performance wireless networking. But seeking to bring 5G to the IoT masses, the architects created a new tier of reduced capability devices with lower speed, lower power, and limited functions. The planned lower tier of 5G, known as NR RedCap, began last year in Release 17 of the 3GPP worldwide standard.

“[RedCap] is critical for the broad adoption of 5G in IoT,” wrote Kiran Mukkavilli, Senior Director of Engineering, Qualcomm Technologies, in a blog post on the chip and module maker’s website. “[RedCap] can mean broader applicability, serving use cases in industry and enterprise verticals and consumer applications. NR-Light's capabilities and advantages also make it the ideal 5G technology for future-proofing new designs for mid-tier IoT use cases."

A need for speed?

5G RedCap delivers throughputs of 150 and 50 Mbps in the downlink and uplink, respectively. This is far below 5G's support for gigabits of throughput but still well above the capabilities of current NB-IoT (downlink of 26 Kbps and an uplink of 62 Kbps) and eMTC (Cat-M1) offerings which support a downlink of 58 Kbps and an uplink of 1.1 Mbps).

Creators hope RedCap means broader applicability for 5G and thus drives its emergence forward, in part by serving a broader array of use cases in industry and enterprise verticals and consumer applications.

Vendor materials on 5G RedCap use cases typically include:

  • Industrial sensors, gauges, and actuators.
  • Surveillance cameras (a core building block for smart cities and factories).
  • Wearable devices, including glasses and watches: e-heath measurement and monitoring units.

In its annual Mobility Report, Ericsson sees value in an LTE-NR evolution.

It is worth mentioning that some of the wearable and video surveillance use cases are currently addressed by LTE-based solutions, the vendor wrote. “NR RedCap offers a path for migrating from LTE to NR for these use cases. Such a migration path is important as it can accelerate the spectrum re-farming from LTE to NR a number of years down the road.”

Closing the Price Gap?

With low-priced equipment a top priority goal for enterprises considering IoT networks, how can vendors hit the sweet spot needed to supplant current options with 5G RedCap?

Expecting enterprises to use 5G technology in their IoT networks has been a nonstarter because of the high price, leaving these entities to stick with or go with 4G options. But the creation of 5G RedCap, which has been stripped of functionality and technical complexity, could change the game going forward.

“The price gap between the 4G and 5G modules is one of the essential factors—if not the most crucial factor—that will continue to limit 5G adoption in IoT applications,” writes Omdia, a global technology research and analysis firm. “The 5G RedCap with reduced complexity will give hardware vendors a viable option to establish a 5G IoT device that can compete with its 4G counterparts in price.”

Is timing everything?

Since it’s early on, it’s difficult to try and put a timeline on the delivery of 5G RedCap-compliant products that carriers and enterprises can use in their networks.

The first 5G RedCap chipset will be commercialized in 2023, and mass production will begin in 2024, according to Techno Systems Research Co., Ltd.

Trying to create a lower complexity 5G New Radio device with the intent of doing for 5G NR what LTE-M and NB-IoT did for LTE is an interesting evolution. “However, with this iteration, and likely for at least a decade to come, it is highly unlikely to have a significant impact on the connectivity technology market landscape,” explained Matt Hatton, Founding Partner, Transforma Insights, a market research and analysis firm. "For the next decade, battery-powered cellular IoT will be dominated by NB-IoT and LTE-M."

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Get up to speed with Wi-Fi analytics for enterprises interested in upgrading their networks to newer specs (including Wi-Fi 6 and 6E).

With two Wi-Fi specs approved in the last three years and another coming down the pike, there's no time like the present for IT managers to get up to speed on trends for analytic packages that help techs decide to install, design, manage, and upgrade their wireless networks.

At present, coverage of Wi-Fi analytics has focused on early users in the sports and entertainment verticals as they are among the earliest users, especially in pro football, of the latest and greatest version of Wi-Fi (6 and 6E). They use analytics to analyze data from fans in the stands to power fan marketing programs. Retail is another heavy Wi-Fi vertical user but typically uses “older” versions of Wi-Fi in locations.

Concurrently, midsize and large enterprises are collecting Wi-Fi analytics data from their LANs and feeding them into models designed to improve user experience and network quality, often from networks in far-flung locales. This contrasts with the analytics performed for single-site sports venues that are especially focused on understanding visitor behavior.

The good news is that networking vendors large (Cisco, HP, Juniper, and Extreme Networks, etc.) and smaller (Purple, etc.) offer Wi-Fi analytics packages for enterprise Wireless LAN networks. And yet other vendors seek to provide the tools needed for a third party to integrate and manage what enterprises need.

Core capabilities

Wi-Fi Analytics are becoming critical for IT network management and fall into a growing domain known as AI Operations, or AIOps. Features support: Design, Provisioning, Monitoring, Troubleshooting, and Optimizing. Security is a strong focus that crosses all categories.

Analytics critical to network performance

Wi-Fi analytics are crucial in gauging the congestion of your network, whether it is from an assessment of the user experience, the status of the devices on the network, or an understanding of the amount of traffic each device is generating.

Before deciding to upgrade, it's important to understand traffic patterns and where the problem is occurring, and analytics can certainly help, explained Siân Morgan, Research Director for Dell’Oro Group, a technology market research and analysis firm. “There’s no point in covering your building with the latest and greatest Wi-Fi 6E APs and then discovering that the traffic had been hitting a problem at the switch!”


As far as prevailing trends that influence Wi-Fi analytics offerings, the first is the increase in Public Cloud WLAN deployments (as opposed to Private Cloud or On-Premises managed WLAN). The second is whether the network is multi-vendor or what is called "full stack," meaning the same vendor is providing the entire network solution.

Key issues in Wi-Fi analytics

Wireless LAN solutions can be split into two categories; those that are public cloud-managed and others that are on-premises or private cloud-managed. Whether the solution is public cloud-managed can determine the WLAN analytics feature sets.

"Some solutions, like Juniper Mist, provide only a public cloud-managed solution. If you want to go with Cisco, their public cloud-managed solution is Meraki, and it doesn't have the same WLAN analytics feature set as their Catalyst line, which is managed on-premises," explained Morgan.

Research says

"Our data shows that last year, about a quarter of the WLAN Access Points deployed were public cloud-managed, and this percentage will rise," explained Morgan. These solutions are growing faster than on-premises or private cloud alternatives. "However, there are good reasons why some enterprises don't want to move to public cloud-managed solutions, often related to data sovereignty issues, so we believe that the penetration of public cloud-managed solutions will plateau at some point.

Dell’Oro data also shows that worldwide, the average price is higher for public cloud-managed solutions than for those deployed on-premises or on a private cloud. “This leads us to believe that enterprises purchasing public cloud-managed solutions are less price sensitive and are paying for a richer feature set.”

Single vendor (full stack) vs. multi-vendor Wi-Fi networks

Most of the vendors have solutions that provide richer functionality if the enterprise acquires Wi-Fi, switching, and network services from the same manufacturer. At a minimum, having a centralized dashboard to monitor all the components of the network can be valuable, according to Morgan.

As an example, Cambium recently announced a "ONE Network" framework to provide a single management platform across Wi-Fi, Switching, Fixed Wireless Broadband, and Edge security which allows them to apply common security policy and makes it easier to troubleshoot workflows.

Potential drawbacks to a single-vendor approach

A single-vendor approach is often not feasible for enterprises that have grown through mergers and acquisitions unless these companies are willing to embark on expensive rip-and-replace projects. Also, a single-source strategy can prevent companies from choosing best-of-breed technology or from gaining cost advantages from cheaper equipment in isolated purchase decisions.

The practical advantages of multi-vendor networks provide opportunities for IT network service providers. For instance, NTT Global has developed its own platform to manage multi-vendor IT networks, a platform that produces a wide gamut of network analytics data, from insights into the user experience to assessment of security vulnerabilities.

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Wireless power transfer, Wi-Fi 6 versions, life after 3G network shutdowns, and home networking challenges top the list.

Important challenges and opportunities for wireless technologies will take center stage this year as IT managers look to plan network upgrades, expansions, and new installations.

While 2022 seemed like the year of 5G, several cellular technologies will share the spotlight in the year ahead.

The contenders

One emerging tech to watch in 2023 is Wireless Power-at-a-Distance, which is an expanded form of wireless power transfer (WPT). The tech portends to enable the charging of devices from smartphones to drones by eliminating the need for wiring – or close proximity - by beaming power over special radio frequencies to devices. The advancement here in WPT is the ability to beam the power over distances far beyond a few meters.

Benefits from this form of WPT include savings in wiring, maintenance, and management, and the ability to better power an expanded list of devices, potentially from meters to miles.

“Scalable wireless power beaming will hit the market and promises to bring freedom to a broad range of equipment – from lower wattage IoT devices to higher wattage robotics – making 2023 the first year that high-wattage, industrial-scale wireless power-at-a-distance hits the market in a real, deployable way,” said Chris Davlantes, CEO, and founder of Reach.

Wireless on the home front

With the proliferation of devices in consumer homes and a widening array of services offered to residences, upgrades to home networks are a certainty in 2023. Work From Home programs up the bandwidth ante.

“Broadband speeds continue to increase for consumers, but the problem area is wireless within the home,” explained Elizabeth Parks, President and CMO of Parks Associates, a research and advisory firm focusing on home networks and services. “[That’s why] new network solutions are supporting that and advanced networks that can provide managed services.”

Parks also strongly advises IT managers to keep cyberthreats front of mind when thinking WFH approaches. “Data privacy and security are important as well as the strength of the VPN network protection.” She warned that businesses will continue to incur costs for added cyber-security protection, which is an area that will see continued growth and change.

Wireless, post-3G network shutdowns

With the disruptive sunsetting of 2G and 3G wireless networks by top operators in the U.S. last year, enterprises in numerous verticals (including transportation) were driven toward interim solutions such as 4G versions of wireless equipment as carriers shifted the older network resources to supercharge 5G rollouts.

Forward-looking business and technology managers can be expected to move their telematics and other core wireless data operations systems to 5G-powered offerings. A vertical industry for IT managers to watch is transportation (especially vehicle fleet monitoring and management) which relies on wireless for numerous core functions such as vehicle and asset tracking.

The far higher bandwidth offered by 4G and 5G allows vehicle fleets to add important capabilities, such as camera systems-based video telematics, to optimize vehicle, driver, and delivery performance.

Wi-Fi 6E, is it for me?

Wi-Fi 6E grabbed headlines in 2022, with the Wi-Fi Alliance claiming to have certified over 660 devices as of November. Expect early implementors to be large, multi-event sports and other entertainment venues, hospitality industry members, and healthcare.

Those that embrace the latest version will have extra heavy traffic (including video) and require its mesh networking capabilities as well as WPA 3 wireless security.

After those specific early users, it's unclear who will follow and when, as Wi-Fi 6E implementations require dense network support with super heavy data and video traffic and the need for advanced features. Expect these pioneers to be revealed in 2023.

Help upgrading to advanced Wi-Fi

But what about enterprises with Wi-Fi 5? IT planners with routers three years or older have been advised to consider moving to Wi-Fi 6.

Before making upgrades, IT architects should consider using any of a variety of Wi-Fi network design and analytics packages. They are offered from the top networking equipment vendors – Cisco, HP, Extreme Networks, and Juniper Networks – and smaller vendors.

"Before deciding to upgrade, it's important to get a handle on traffic patterns and where the problem is occurring, and analytics can help there for sure," emphasized Siân Morgan, Research Director at Dell’Oro Group, Inc., a tech market research, and advisory services firm. “There’s no point in covering your building with the latest and greatest Wi-Fi 6E APs and then discovering that the traffic had been hitting a problem at the switch!”

The year ahead will see an increase in the use of the latest version, Wi-Fi 6E, notably in sports venues, to keep pace with soaring use by fans in the stands. But given its maturity and the far larger list of Wi-Fi Certified products, expect upgrades from older versions to focus on Wi-Fi 6.

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