The Telecoms Industry Continues to Make Progress in 5G Positioning, but There’s a Long Way to Go Before Industrial Viability

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1Q 2023 | IN-6778

Nokia and Vodafone have announced a partnership with BMW to test 5G positioning in factory conditions. This is good news as progress on 5G positioning has been limited.

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Test Beds and Pilots Pushing Europe Forward


With advanced positioning support introduced in 5G Release 16, frozen in 2020, telecoms vendors have been scrambling to develop the technology and provide the service as a key component of their private 5G network deployments offerings. As private 5G begins to take hold in industry despite deployment struggles, inclusion of even the most basic 5G positioning support has begun to lag behind; however, this may be changing as Vodafone and Nokia have announced their collaboration with BMW in order to create a new 5G positioning-compatible testbed in Leipzig, Germany.

Engineering 5G Positioning Solutions Are Proving a Challenge


For enterprises, private 5G networks have promised to introduce a new generation of both connectivity and positioning potential, allowing for highly integrated digitization efforts within Industry 4.0. High Accuracy Indoor Positioning (HAIP) is a crucial component of many new automation use cases, such as Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) control, drone management, robotics, and digital twins, and end users are often hesitant about existing Real-Time Location System (RTLS) solutions over fears of vendor lock-in, limited scalability, and prohibitive costs—issues that 5G positioning has the opportunity to address through a standardized approach.

Huawei announced the launch of its 5G positioning solution in April 2022, an industry first that continues to be the only commercially available 5G positioning solution on the market. The Huawei system was validated in 2022 through a testing partnership with Midea; performance of the system is limited to within 3-Meter (m) accuracy, although this improved to as high as 1 m in situations with Line-of-Sight (LOS). With many industry 4.0 or HAIP use cases requiring much higher accuracy (sub-meter, even within 20 Centimeters (cm) to 30 cm), even the market leaders still have work to do to produce effective solutions for HAIP. This is further reflected in The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Release 17, which contains enhancements to the positioning specification specifically targeting high-accuracy industrial use cases at levels competitive with other technologies. But with slow progress on Release 16 and the fundamentals of 5G positioning, there may still be years before focus can shift toward higher accuracy.

Qualcomm’s test beds, shown off at MWC 2022, demonstrated that sub-meter 5G positioning was achievable even in Non-Line-of-Sight (NLOS) conditions common in industry. The solution combines time-based Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA) positioning with machine learning in order to achieve higher precision. Vodafone and Nokia’s announcement joins a handful of other vendors offering private 5G solutions looking to support native positioning, and pilots and test beds have been kicked off by the likes of Ericsson and ZTE. One of the earliest deployments of 5G positioning was in the Grandview Mall in Guangzhou, supplied by ZTE, able to position within 2 m with LOS.

Effective Location Solutions Will Require Much More Work, and the Market Is Eagerly Waiting


It should be clear now from both the lack of developments in 5G positioning compared to 5G, in general, and the lack of availability of 5G positioning, given the hype, that efforts to develop positioning solutions aren’t progressing as smoothly as expected. While 3GPP delays have been frequent, the industry has barely scratched the surface of what has been defined in the 5G specifications, yet more and more strict demands for low-power, high-accuracy positioning are being included. Moving forward, ABI Research expects the further development of the ecosystem and the beginning of widespread adoption of 5G positioning to emerge within the next 5 years with major acceleration of adoption around 2026. This coincides with the expected arrival of 5G-Advanced solutions, bringing valuable features to the specification, such as positioning over 5G Reduced Capability (RedCap) for cheaper, scalable, and high-volume devices.

Furthermore, innovating on existing cellular positioning solutions in operation will have to move past proven positioning methods; existing Long Term Evolution (LTE) positioning leverages time difference-based solutions with what we’ve seen from 5G positioning being incremental improvements on this. The key to cost-efficient, high-accuracy indoor positioning will, however, require adopting much of the new functionality of 5G infrastructure, such as leveraging beamforming for stronger, long-range signals and both angular positioning and Round-Trip Time (RTT) in order to compensate for differences in time synchronization.

The need and demand for HAIP for industry remains strong and many industry members appear to be holding out for 5G. In a recent ABI Research survey, 56% of enterprise decision makers in markets such as manufacturing, healthcare, and logistics listed 5G as their most desired positioning technology, but with almost 70% of that same audience looking to deploy RTLS within the next 5 years, the window for supplying timely 5G positioning solutions may be small. Instead, many of the infrastructure vendors that have opted to support open ecosystems for location technology over their 5G may have a leg up in the space. As the RTLS industry trends toward hybrid technology solutions, current and future 5G deployments looking to leverage positioning will find benefit in cost-effective and power-effective Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) solutions, for example. One of the major draws of 5G positioning over other RTLS technologies is the availability and standardization of the solution. Vendors will have to look toward the natural interoperability of the solutions in order to encourage the development of the ecosystem. A deep network of 5G infrastructure, device, and solution vendors will lead to the much-needed acceleration of the viability of 5G positioning deployments.



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