ZTE has been awarded a contract to supply location services over China Broadnet’s 5G public network. This is hopefully the first of many attempts by mobile operators to introduce positioning support to 5G.
Registered users can unlock up to five pieces of premium content each month.
Log in or register to unlock this Insight.
Bringing Location-Based Services to 5G Public Networks
ZTE has announced its winning bid to provide Location-Based Services (LBS) for China Broadnet, China’s fourth and newest telecoms provider, aiming to provide positioning services to support China Broadnet’s newly launched 5G network. The move represents what could be a much-needed shift in strategy from carriers investing in opportunities to leverage their network outside of connectivity, as a well as a landmark opportunity for 5G positioning on a public network.
Many Opportunities to Leverage Positioning
ZTE’s iLBS platform is built to target positioning applications for mobile devices over a cellular connection. While ZTE’s system is designed to flexibly support cellular generations, the system is being expanded to support 5G positioning alongside 4G and older iterations. For positioning, much of ZTE’s previous focus has been on other location technologies, while leveraging 5G for connectivity in private networks. Pilots of ZTE’s NodeEngine platform have used the increased latency and bandwidth of 5G for wireless connectivity and backhaul, while eschewing 5G positioning for more mature location technologies such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Ultra-Wideband (UWB). For ZTE’s 5G iLBS solution, a hybrid location system will be adopted, compiling many positioning measurements, such as 5G positioning signals and the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), as well as older cellular positioning methods, such as Cell-ID, in order to locate devices in many scenarios at the best accuracy possible. A hybrid approach can not only achieve much better performance than any individual technology with the aid of Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning (ML) processing, but can help overcome many of the limitations individual technologies pose, such as lack of GNSS coverage in urban canyons or the limited precision of current 5G positioning technology.
Interest in 5G positioning, so far, has been mostly around private deployments and indoor use cases, so there are many opportunities to leverage 5G positioning on public networks. Enterprises can leverage 5G positioning for asset tracking and fleet management, benefiting from lower power draw compared to GNSS solutions, while still benefiting from the wide area coverage of 5G cellular solutions. ZTE suggests that public networks can be leveraged alongside edge computing networks as a positioning alternative to private networks in factories, mines, and hospitals. For consumers, hybrid positioning, such as with ZTE’s LBS, will always benefit and strive to include as many positioning measurements as possible to feed their location algorithms. Future advancements, such as positioning support for lighter specifications based on 5G Reduced Capability (RedCap), promise to allow for less complex location-enabled devices at far lower price points and better power efficiencies compared to current GNSS and cellular location devices.
The First Steps on the Road to Widespread 5G Positioning?
While there have been a number of notable efforts by infrastructure providers (e.g., Huawei, Qualcomm, Nokia, and ZTE) to introduce 5G positioning into their systems, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have largely avoided the opportunity to support positioning on their 5G networks. Despite ample opportunity to monetize and benefit from this, networks operators have been reluctant to support location over their networks, especially for 5G with the new China Broadnet contract appearing to be the first of its kind. The success of a project like this may lead the way when it comes to educating and convincing carriers to invest in positioning; otherwise, they risk losing their opportunity as the industry turns toward third-party solutions that can leverage 5G public networks from companies like Polte, u-blox, and Polaris Wireless.
Positioning on 5G public networks is not without its limitations; however, precise time synchronization, accurate cell tower location, and support for the standardized signals involved in 5G positioning are difficult to manage even on a single network without having to introduce the need for collaboration between multiple carriers. On the other hand, the major benefit of supplying location over a singular network is being able to avoid introducing many of these restrictions when communicating between networks. Furthermore, the positioning techniques themselves involved in 5G positioning are currently underdeveloped, with 5G positioning on its own only capable of location within a couple of meters. While this is expected to improve as the hardware and software components around 5G positioning are further developed and tighter specifications are introduced to The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), ZTE is looking to mainly supply location for enterprise and emergency response services—a use case with very strict coverage requirements, but low accuracy, often building level precision.
While the LBS move is a step in the right direction, further expansion of this system toward use cases like asset tracking for goods and indoor navigation on smartphones is needed to realize the mass market potential of 5G positioning. ABI Research expects that initial support for 5G positioning in consumer devices will be a niche smartphone feature beginning in 2023 with 1.48 device shipments, increasing to more than 1 billion 5G positioning shipments by 2030 for smartphones alone (see ABI Research’s Indoor Location/RTLS market data (MD-RTLS 104). It is up to infrastructure providers and networks operators like ZTE and China Broadnet to upgrade 5G infrastructure to meet this demand.