opinion


How 5G supports a new era of location technology

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Ed Chao, CEO of Polte, explores the impact of 5G on the location sector.

According to Fortune, the global 5G infrastructure market is projected to grow from US $1.25 billion in 2019 to US $80.06 billion by 2027, exhibiting a CAGR of 71% during the forecast period.

Liberalization of and investment in spectrum, increasing demand for connectivity, growth of Industrial IoT (IIoT) and the steady roll-out of private networks and partnerships have all acted as drivers for this 5G market explosion. However, questions remain over how to fully exploit this new technology and truly generate a return on investment.

While the hype has been significant, new network technology doesn’t always result in higher profits for its creators or its providers. For instance, many Communication Service Providers (CSPs) spent copious amounts developing 4G networks in the late aughts only to be outmanoeuvred by the major tech platforms, subsequently left as basic commodity service providers for OTT companies streaming to their customers.

Telcos now need to ensure they can deliver value for 5G beyond the connectivity pipe and deliver valuable insights for 5G IoT use cases.

Location, Location, Location

Precise positioning technology that makes use of the inherent capabilities and infrastructure of 5G, such as edge computing, high bandwidth, security and ultra-reliable connectivity, provides an incredible opportunity for telcos to differentiate themselves and monetize 5G use cases.

In the past, location technology (involving the positioning and monitoring of assets in real time by making use of space, place, time, and geography) was perceived as a “nice to have,” or merely an optional add-on or feature of 5G. This thinking is deeply flawed. Location technology that works in harmony with 5G is not just a feature; it’s fundamental to the growth and success of IoT and the opportunities being opened up to enterprises in a wide range of sectors.

The majority of technology used across 5G networks today is on the move. This includes Critical IoT use cases such as industrial robots used to move objects in a warehouse, wearable tags for employees in hazardous environments, or tracking medical equipment between floors of a healthcare facility. All of these use cases have a common reliance on the location of and visibility into these moving objects in order to operate efficiently, and in most cases, drive profit.

On the macro 5G network, Massive IoT use cases also rely on reliable locational insights. This includes fleet management, smart city applications, or tracking equipment in mining or agricultural sites. Being able to securely and accurately enable location insights for these verticals, operators can gain valuable insights into new major business and economic trends.

So, what advantages does 5G-powered location technology have over traditional location technology?

Out with the Old

Current location technologies such as GPS, Cell-ID and Wi-Fi all have various drawbacks. Widely used outdoor location GPS (or its regional equivalents, Europe’s Galileo and China’s BeiDou), for example, can be inaccurate, suffer from outdated or insufficient local knowledge, privacy issues or signal failure. GPS is often challenged in dense urban and indoor environments where line of sight to satellites is not always possible. Buildings, mountains and other obstacles can block signals coming from certain directions. The receiver-satellite geometry may also be poor, resulting in less than perfect results.

GNSS technologies such as GPS drain battery life, perhaps not an issue for critical use cases like drones, cars and robots, but increasingly so in other IoT scenarios, such as in smart buildings, smart metering, transport logistics, fleet management, and so on.

The most commonly used indoor location technologies, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, provide higher accuracy for in-building or urban environments, but short range and low penetration make both useless for global positioning. Wi-Fi also demands added power consumption and security vulnerabilities in both private and public networks. In Critical IoT environments such as emergency response scenarios, in which reliable connectivity and positioning could literally mean the difference between life and death, security cannot be compromised.

And finally, Cell-ID (CID) is generally only used as a fallback for other location technologies due to its lack of accuracy. Accuracy can range from 800m to several kilometers.

Locating the Ideal 5G Technology

The challenges inherent in traditional technologies such as these can be overcome using Cloud Location over Cellular (C-LoC) technology. C-LoC technology is emerging as the “next generation” GPS and can be deployed within the network edge – either in a public cloud, private cloud or directly into the network – or as an xApp in a RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) in an Open RAN infrastructure.

By leveraging ubiquitous cellular infrastructure, C-LoC enables indoor tracking with levels of accuracy that were previously impossible. In combination with 4G/5G and seamless roaming integrated into a WAN, it provides highly accurate end to end visibility, with sub-meter X, Y, and Z-axis accuracy delivered by 5G private networks. It can deliver less than three-meter accuracy by a public, macro network.

The data required to identify and use globally connected location insights has previously been stuck in operators’ networks and in chipsets. Given its unique edge-to-cloud architecture, C-LoC is also less susceptible to security attacks than other location technologies, while allowing users to skip the need for hardware upgrades and enable enterprises to overcome a major hurdle in capitalizing on the edge ecosystem and manage sensitive location data within their own security domains.

For Critical IoT use cases, C-LoC can keep first responders connected when working in hazardous or remote environments, enable real-time data transmission for the safer operation of autonomous vehicles, relay potentially life-saving data from connected healthcare devices to medical staff, or facilitate safer human-robot collaboration in smart factories. For Massive IoT use cases, C-LoC can provide much more accurate asset tracking for industries such as manufacturing or logistics.

C-LoC is allowing operators to revolutionize the traditional telco market. Delivering the most accurate cellular location capability available – plus the possibility of data analytics and rich insights – is a true differentiator for both private 5G and macro networks, that will transform operators into next-generation IoT service providers.

 

As CEO of Polte, Chao is leading the charge to position Polte as the premier provider of global, 4G/5G cellular location technology. Chao brings 26 years of leadership experience, serving as an executive for companies such as Bell Labs, MetroPCS, T-Mobile and with the U.S. Digital Service at the White House. Chao holds a Master of Business Administration from Columbia University, a Master of Science in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech, and a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Rutgers University.

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