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Evolving Devices for 5G Adoption Briefing Paper

The landscape of 5G devices is evolving rapidly to meet the diverse needs of various use cases, ranging from smartphones to specialized IoT devices and emerging battery-less ambient IoT devices. Key topics covered in this latest 5G Americas briefing paper include:

  • Device Characteristics: As 5G reshapes global communications, device features remain crucial. Characteristics like mobility, bandwidth, size, accessibility, cost, security, coverage, battery life and radio access technology influence the design and functionality of 5G devices for various applications.
  • Device Landscape: Beyond smartphones, the device ecosystem is rapidly growing to include AR glasses, voice-enabled devices and specialized IoT technologies. These developments are transforming industries, improving communication and enabling remote healthcare monitoring.
  • Reduced Capability Devices: Initially, 5G New Radio technology focused on enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) applications. 3GPP later introduced Reduced Capability (RedCap) specifications in Release 17 to cater to low-throughput, cost-effective and energy-efficient use cases. These devices offer a balanced solution for data rate, latency and battery life.
  • Ambient IoT: Ambient IoT devices operate solely on energy harvested from their environment, eliminating the need for batteries. Characterized by their small form, low cost, and ultra-low power consumption, they find uses in various sectors, such as inventory management and environmental sensing.

"This paper encompassed a wide variety of current and future 5G devices, ranging from smartphones to the innovative RedCap and battery-less ambient IoT devices. We categorized these devices based on various factors, emphasizing optimization for IoT applications in terms of complexity, performance, and efficiency.”

Executive Summary

5G devices are used in a wide variety of areas, but there is no single device type which can meet all requirements needed in different use cases. In this briefing paper, we review the evolution of 5G devices from smartphones (based on enhanced Mobile Broadband eMBB) to mid-tier IoT devices with Reduced Capability (RedCap), and introduce emerging, low-cost, battery-less devices (ambient IoT) covering a wide spectrum of 5G use cases. Categorization and analysis of 5G device types are provided based on multi-dimensional device characterization, requirements, market evolution, and enabling technologies. This paper will provide an insight on how 5G is evolving from the device perspective to address various use cases through optimization and adaptation.

Device Characteristics

Device characteristics play a significant role in determining device categorization. High-level categorization can provide a glimpse into the connectivity requirements, and help map technology options. A precise taxonomy of devices is difficult to lay out, so multi-dimensional perspectives are to be considered:
  • Mobility: Devices such as smart meters, sensors, and parking point-of-payment are immobile compared to warehouse inventory sensors and readers which tend to be relatively mobile within certain areas, such as an enterprise campus. On the other extreme, fleet management devices, tracking containers, trucks, and electric scooters are mobile and expected to travel across a broad geographical area.
  • Bandwidth requirements: Devices drive different volumes of data both in transmitting and receiving information based on use. Security cameras transmitting round-the-clock video streams demand much higher bandwidth than a smart water meter sending low volume of data on a scheduled basis. The asymmetric aspect of connectivity needs to be considered, as well as devices with higher upload requirements.
  • Size (form factor): Industrial applications mandate specific size requirements and physical constraints placed on devices. This can impose limitations on batteries, antennas, and general size. A tracking device attached to the collar of a farm animal will have different requirements than a shipping container tracking module or a weather monitoring station.
  • Accessibility/maintenance: Devices, especially those deployed in uninhabited environments (such as those for wildfire monitoring or farms), are expected to perform their tasks autonomously with very limited accessibility for maintenance or management purposes. These devices have varying durability requirements.
  • Cost: It ranges from a simple sensor with limited connectivity options to complex devices configured with compute, storage, and several radio modules.
  • Security requirements: Security is particularly important when devices are deployed in uncontrolled or unprotected environments where protecting data at rest (in the device) is as important as protecting data in transit (transmitted or received).
  • Coverage: Modern connected devices will demand a wide range of coverage options depending on their application. The supporting technology to connect as well as the network topology will include relays, proxies, or mesh networks.
  • Battery life: Devices need at least one way to stay operational depending on mobility, location, size, and complexity.
  • Radio access technology: Most connected will employ Bluetooth, WiFi, 4G, 5G (or a combination of multiple) to achieve their functional requirements depending on availability, coverage or bandwidth needs.

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