With 3GPP Release 17 Finally Completed, What Does This Mean for 5G Positioning?

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By Mark Qi | 2Q 2022 | IN-6516

Release 17 has been frozen, which includes support for enhanced 5G positioning capabilities. The advancements are expected to lead the way for 5G positioning adoption in private networks and are a sign for future technology enhancements, as well as changes in the industry.

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Release 17 Promises Important Advances for Positioning


After months of delays, the stage 3 functional freeze for The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) Release 17, the final release before 5G advanced, has been completed. One of the standout enhancements within the new specification is the enhancement to 5G precise positioning where crucial advancements in capability, in terms of accuracy, latency, and hybrid positioning support place 5G competitively within the location ecosystem, particularly for industrial use cases. The advancement marks what ABI Research sees as the beginning of the wider adoption of 5G positioning, bolstered by improvements in future releases and increased hardware production.

Expect Competitive 5G Systems in the Coming Years


Precise positioning using 5G New Radio (NR) was initially introduced in Release 16 and finalized in mid-2020. The initial specification supports positioning with an accuracy of 3 Meters (m) to 5 m, allowing communications providers to support positioning by leveraging their existing cellular infrastructure to avoid many of the major limitations of Real-Time Location Systems (RTLSs) and other customized location systems. Infrastructure for 5G is multipurpose to reduce investment costs by compounding Return on Investment (ROI), and signals are standardized across 5G NR to avoid vendor lock-in. The infancy of the technology (in terms of its limited positioning capability, lack of wide-scale adoption, and limited commercialization of hardware) has resulted in the number of deployments of 5G positioning systems being limited to a few pilot deployments, such as Huawei and China Mobile’s LampSite system deployments in Suzhou Station.

Release 17 5G systems improve greatly on positioning capability of the system, achieving positioning accuracies of under a meter with greatly reduced latency, along with advancements in device management to improve power efficiency. The sub-meter benchmark is comparable with many RTLS technologies, such as Ultra-Wideband (UWB) and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) 5.1, and a key requirement for many Industry 4.0 and enterprise use cases, such as personnel tracking, vehicle control, access control, equipment management, and Augmented Reality (AR)/Virtual Reality (VR) integration. The enhanced capabilities of 5G positioning, along with many of the advantages of 5G systems compared to other RTLS solutions should compel enterprises that are large enough to absorb the cost of private 5G infrastructure to invest in 5G positioning either as the main driver of ROI or more likely as a value-add to a more comprehensive system. In a recent ABI Research survey, 56% of decision makers in major RTLS verticals said that 5G positioning was their most desired RTLS technology.

Further Improvements Can be Expected across Location Ecosystems


Outside of the few pilot deployments, ABI Research forecasts that, following the functional freeze, 5G positioning implementations in industry will start emerging in 2023, increasing from 68 deployments in 2023 to more than 125,000 by 2030 and centered around the manufacturing and warehousing and logistics verticals (see ABI Research’s Indoor Location/RTLS market data (MD-RTLS 104)). Growth is expected as the ecosystem develops, ROI becomes clearer, and the technology becomes increasingly available. The technology does, however, still suffer from many of the same problems limiting the adoption of RTLS technologies today. The high costs of 5G private network infrastructure, while multipurpose, will prevent many companies from being able to afford the solution. Even among larger enterprises, multiple use cases, in addition to positioning, will be required for an effective ROI, which mirrors a wider discussion within the RLTS ecosystem where de-siloed solutions are being encouraged in order to best identify and produce value from deployments.

Additionally, improvements still need to be made to address the capability of 5G precise positioning. Alongside expensive and increasingly precise vision-based systems (which are practically perfect in terms of accuracy), UWB systems for Industry 4.0 can demonstrably and consistently achieve positioning accuracies of 30 Centimeters (cm) or even less—a requirement we may see for further digitization use cases like Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and Collaborative Robots (cobots). Further refinements on 5G NR precise positioning are expected from Release 18, and ABI Research forecasts widescale adoption of positioning functionality, led by 5G advanced functionality in consumer devices. One should also consider 5G’s position within the larger ecosystem. Many aspects of 5G infrastructure can be leveraged for other location technologies where traditional RTLS technologies have been able to take advantage of the bandwidth and enhanced backhaul capabilities provided by private 5G infrastructure, while cloud-based, alternative positioning methods, such as Polte’s solution, are able to use 5G cellular networks to connect the devices they support.