3GPP to Consider Ambient IoT in December Vote

Published: December 5, 2023

Integrated sensing using battery-free Bluetooth technology from Wiliot is one of the new upgrades and technologies being considered.

Mobile broadband standards group 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) is preparing to vote on its next generation broadband standard this month, with a variety of new features and upgrades that could include Internet of Things (IoT) functionality.

The association is considering a feature known as “integrated sensing,” similar to Wiliot’s Ambient IoT technology that leverages battery-free Bluetooth 2.4 GHz radios. The technology would enable mobile devices to energize, and interact with, postage sized tags for a wide variety of IoT solutions.

The group will decide at their five day conference kicking off Dec. 11 to include Ambient IoT in the standard or simply study the technology for future inclusion in the next version. The vote centers around Release 19, with latest upgrades intended to be standardized with future mobile products, part of what will be known as 5G-Advanced.

Small Tech Company with Bigger Fish

The 3GPP  was established in 1998 to set protocols for mobile telecommunications. As a standards organization it oversees GSM, UMTS, LTE, 4G and 5G standards.

Wiliot has been a member of 3GPP but its chief marketing officer Steve Statler is quick to point out that it is a small technology company among the pool of much larger fish: global telecom and mobile device firms.

When it comes to technology companies that are 3GPP members, Statler says, “we’re these little pygmies dancing with giants…this is a massive industry that’s relied on massive disruption.”

This will be the first year that the association votes on Ambient IoT technology, which Wiliot officials hope will be part of that disruption.

Preparing for 5G Advanced and 6G

Wiliot’s products consist of small, passive BLE tags, which act like computers that contain a built-in Arm processor and a Bluetooth radio, as well as energy-harvesting functionality to capture and employ power from RFID, Amazon Sidewalk or BLE transmissions. Its technology is being used for purposes such as tracking inventory or assets when the tags are attached to those items and energized wirelessly by power emitting devices.

Wiliot’s IoT Pixel tags provide a longer-range transmission than standard RFID tags, and could also serve as sensors, while—unlike standard Bluetooth trackers —they do not require batteries so they can be small and inexpensive.

When it comes to the 5G Advanced plans, integrated sensing could be provided with the Ambient IoT technology. With the Release 19 vote, features such as integrated sensing are being considered not only for the coming 5G Advanced standard, but early 6G innovations as well, says Dominique Bonte, ABI Research’s end markets VP.

Work Vs. Study Items

The 5G Advanced and 6G specifications might include new features ranging from support for metaverse applications and sustainability to pervasive access as well as the integrated sensing.

IoT adoption for integrated sensing might not take place with the newest upgrades, as Bonte observes that “currently, the industry seems to support prioritizing high bandwidth immersive use cases such as the metaverse as opposed to massive IoT features.”

Still, the features being voted on will be earmarked either as a study item or a work item. Work items are the features that will be developed into 5G-Advanced, and ultimately could be part of the technology built into the next mobile products for iPhones and Samsung Galaxies.

A study item, on the other hand, is designated for evaluation of the feasibility of a technology. “So there is a big difference in expected implementation timelines,” says Bonte. As a study item, it would then be potentially put to vote for Release 20.

Considering a Timeline

3GPP specifies that “not all work items are the result of a study item,” so in some cases “smaller, more evolutionary efforts may start directly and may have some study phase at the start of the work Item.”

With that in mind, becoming part of Release 19 would be the start of a clear timeline towards implementation and commercial availability.

“However, Release 19 will only be published in 2026 with carriers and the larger telco ecosystem needing at least another year to implement the standard,” said Bonte.

As 3G technology transitioned into 4G and 5G, features and performance have been added. Now 3GPP members have hopes of introducing new innovations that will impact consumers in new and significant ways, with the coming 5G Advanced.

Building a Case for Ambient IoT

Statler argues that Ambient IoT will offer the kind of disruption that will benefit the mobile services industry and its users, with a wide set of applications.

Wiliot has been building a case for Ambient IoT technology while, at the same time, numerous large companies have begun deploying or piloting the solution.

One example of common use cases for Ambient IoT—with 5G Advanced—could be farm-to-store tracking of reusable containers that transport and store perishable foods. If a Wiliot passive tag were applied to such containers, anyone with a phone using the latest standard could view the containers in their vicinity and capture information related to inventory counts, expiration dates or recalls.

That means even consumers could have access to product data in stores, in some cases.

“In that way they could have very low-cost connectivity, even in places where there’s not necessarily a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection,” explains Statler.

Industry Uses

The technology is being promoted for use in hotels for room access or other features for guests, or as brand authentication.

Additionally, it could be used for home healthcare to track tagged pharmaceuticals, or medical devices to ensure adherence to a recovery plan. The technology would be employed to ensure products are properly disposed of, or recycled, and even identify and locate a stolen item that has an Ambient IoT tag attached to it.

And in addition to use in smart phones, Statler adds that “we are a firmware upgrade away from all of the smart speakers in your home being able to energize and read Ambient IoT tags.”

Addressing Big Problems Like Climate Change

In the home, individuals could use the tags to understand what is in their refrigerator (if food containers were tagged), access information about the products or even set up a subscription-based purchasing option for a specific product.

“We believe that it’s time for the wireless industry to be agile to move forward quickly,” Statler says, as other groups such as the IEEE and Bluetooth SIG work on IoT standards. “We have this incredible opportunity to solve some really big problems around climate change and supply chain dysfunction and theft in stores.”

Key Takeaways:
  • 3GPP will vote soon on Wiliot’s Ambient IoT as either a work or study option for its mobile device standard 5G Advanced.
  • The association participants may not be focused on IoT among new features, but will be studying the technology, at the least.