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5G Enables New Paradigm of Positioning Service

by Guang Yang | Aug 27, 2020

The precise positioning supported by 5G NR network

Cellular network can naturally be an infrastructure of mobile positioning service. Since the 2G era, mobile positioning has become an important application of cellular network. After the first release of 5G NR standard was completed, the enhancement of cellular network based positioning solution has been on the agenda of 5G standardization. 5G network based mobile positioning has been standardized in the second 5G release, Release 16. The further enhancement will be standardized in the next release, Release 17.

The core features of 5G NR air interface not only can provide the super mobile broadband and ultra-low latency experience, but also can improve the accuracy of mobile positioning. The broad carrier bandwidth, the massive MIMO antenna, the precise synchronization, the licensed spectrum and the powerful basestation computing platform together can significantly improve the accuracy of the mobile positioning and shorten the positioning latency. With these enhancements, the positioning has become one of the key capabilities of 5G system.    

Based on the current approaches in Release 16, the accuracy of 5G based positioning solutions can provide 10-meter accuracy at 80% probability in an outdoor environment, and 3-meter accuracy at 80% probability in an indoor environment. The latency of positioning is around 1 second.

The positioning accuracy could be further improved with the enhancements in Release 17, particularly for the scenario of Industry Internet in industrial campus. The positioning accuracy could be 1 meter at 90% probability in an indoor environment and even 0.2-0.5 meter at 90% probability in the campus environment. The positioning latency could be shortened to 10-100 millisecond as well.    

New positioning service enabled by 5G based solution

As what 3GPP has realized, the development of Industry Internet has generated strong demand for positioning service. There have been multiple solutions in the positioning market so far, such as GNSS, RFID, UWB, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, etc. Compared with these existing technologies, 5G based positioning solution has some unique advantages, particularly in the indoor scenario.

Most of these existing indoor positioning solutions are based on short range wireless technologies. A dedicated infrastructure will be required when an enterprise customer deploys such solutions. That means extra work effort and long deployment cycle, particularly in a complex working environment such as the plant with complex layout and limited installation time window.

The Line of Sight (LOS) propagation environment is usually required for these existing indoor positioning solutions to get accurate position data, because they are based on the short range wireless technologies. However, in many plants with complex layout, the LOS propagation is not broadly available. This will impact on the positioning accuracy.

GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) is broadly used for the positioning service in outdoor environment. But it’s difficult to get the service in the indoor environment, and it’s also challenging to integrate the short range wireless technology based indoor positioning solution with the GNSS solution. This makes it almost impossible to provide a seamless indoor/outdoor positioning service. But the indoor/outdoor integrated service is important for the industries, such as warehouse logistics, that need to position the goods or transport vehicles on the route between outdoor and indoor.   

5G based positioning solution can help enterprise customers to overcome above issues. The 5G system is a “one infrastructure for multiple purposes” solution. After 5G network is deployed, the enterprise customer can naturally get the positioning capabilities and needs not any extra work effort.

The transmission power and receiver capability of the 5G Digital Indoor System (DIS) are much stronger than those short range wireless technologies. Thus, the 5G based indoor positioning solution can work well in either LOS or NLOS (Non Line of Sight) environment to provide accurate positioning service. Meanwhile, the 5G digital indoor system can be integrated with the 5G macro network outdoor to provide a seamless indoor/outdoor positioning experience.

All 5G chipsets, modules and devices have the positioning capability. The strong cellular communication industry chain can be leveraged to develop the positioning service ecosystem. The positioning service providers and users can enjoy the scale of economy with the 5G subscriber base growing in global market.  

5G positioning creates opportunities for enterprises transformation

Chinese operators are going to deploy 5G networks in all tier-3 and above Chinese cities by the end of this year. After that, the operators’ 5G deployment strategies would be turned from coverage extension to improving network service quality. To improve the indoor experience will be one of the focuses. Therefore, it can be expected that the 5G digital indoor system will be broadly deployed in next a few years in China. As a “one infrastructure for multiple purposes” solution, the 5G network could become a solid foundation for telecom operators to explore the positioning service market in both outdoor and indoor environment. This could enable a new paradigm in the positioning service market. Telecom operators could become integrated information service providers for enterprise customers. The positioning information could be an important part of the service portfolio.

On the demand side, we have seen growing demand for the precise positioning service, particularly from the enterprise customers.  Boosted by China government’s “New Infrastructure Construction” policy, many large Chinese enterprises are launching the digital transformation projects to enable “smart factory”, “smart campus”, “smart port”, “smart hospital”, etc. The precise positioning solution is one of the key enablers for these projects. Either the automatic guide vehicles in a smart factory or the crane in a smart port will require the precise position information. Therefore, we expect to see a boom of precise positioning service market in coming years.

Broad cross-industry collaboration will be required to catch the opportunity and accelerate the ecosystem mature for the 5G based positioning service. The system vendors, telecom operators and device/chipset vendors should join forces to improve the maturity of 5G based positioning devices, particularly to lower the power consumption and meet the diverse application requirements. The operators, cloud service providers and the application developers could leverage the edge computing infrastructure to improve the positioning experience of and also to develop innovative business models of the positioning service. We believe, through the broad collaboration, the 5G based precise positioning will become one of the mainstream solutions in the positioning service market and help enterprise customers to accelerate their digital transformation process. 

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