Why 5G needs a new standard for location technology

As competition grows and the future of connectivity evolves, telecoms providers are looking for a way to differentiate their 5G services. While there are many ways this could be achieved, as it stands, location technology is an area with untapped potential. Precise positioning technology that utilises the inherent capabilities of 5G, such as high bandwidth, security and ultra-reliable connectivity can far exceed what’s possible with other location technologies in use today.

As critical IoT use cases expand, advanced tracking capabilities are becoming ever more crucial: it’s no longer enough for location to be perceived as just a feature of 5G; it is a system fundamental to 5G and the IoT and service providers must wake up to this fact, says Ed Chao, CEO, Polte.

A critical need for a new location paradigm

Low-cost, scalable massive IoT use cases such as remote sensing units, fleet management and utilities meters have traditionally occupied the spotlight when it comes to IoT and 4G. However, 5G and critical IoT is gaining traction as predictions put annual IoT investment growth at 27% over the coming years, from a base of $129 billion (€113.75 billion) in 2020. It refers to IoT processes, devices and applications that are used in time-critical, high-stakes situations, made possible by 5G.

While massive IoT devices have recently seen growing applicability for asset tracking with industries such as manufacturing or logistics, critical IoT use cases are set to play a much more vital role for operations, hence the need for unwavering 5G connectivity.

This includes uses such as keeping first responders connected when working in hazardous or remote environments; enabling real-time data transmission for the safer operation of autonomous vehicles; relaying potentially life-saving data from connected healthcare devices to medical staff; or facilitating safer human-robot collaboration in smart factories. Location tracking is fundamental within these use cases, whether that is to keep track of emergency workers while out in the field or to monitor the whereabouts of staff and machines in a warehouse. It’s important that these tracking capabilities are accurate, don’t suffer downtime due to limited connectivity and continue to provide insight wherever the asset may be.

These applications clearly require rock-solid security and privacy, unshakable reliability and the ability to function with limited human intervention. They differ from massive IoT applications in the sense that the impact of a dropped connection can be life or death, rather than a simple inconvenience.

Current location technology is off the mark

Unfortunately, current location technology such as GPS, Cell-ID, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth is not fit for purpose for managing critical IoT applications, either indoors (for example, for private 5G networks) or outdoors (5G macro networks). GPS technology don’t work indoors and are challenged in dense urban environments as it is unable to function without a direct line-of-sight to satellites.

GPS is also vulnerable to signal jamming, which makes it inappropriate for critical use cases that require constant visibility. Legacy cellular approaches like Cell-ID have limited accuracy to several kilometres, which is useless in critical applications. Wi-Fi, meanwhile, is unreliable and lacks security in both public and private networks. Finally, Bluetooth for enterprise use cases demands large investments into the deployment and operation of beacons, which limits applicability.

When the stakes are so high, as with critical IoT use cases, technologies that do not provide secure, accurate, global location indoors and outdoors don’t make the grade. To avoid the limitations of yesterday’s location technologies, telecoms providers must look to the next generation of location technology and enjoy all the opportunities this will unlock.

Setting the 5G location standard

Businesses require sub-metre accuracy over their technology and assets in order to deliver more innovative critical IoT use cases, as well as improve productivity and deliver better customer engagement. Fortunately, 5G is heralding a new era in location technology called “5G Precise Positioning” that can support the broad range of critical IoT use cases being developed for almost every sector of the economy, across both private and macro networks.

It is this that should be a primary focus for telcos and system integrators when deploying their networks, as it provides them with a way to add value to their customers beyond the connectivity pipe. This will open up additional revenue streams by offering enterprise customers new location capabilities that can leverage investments into their networks. Operators and Systems Integrators can then use their 5G location capabilities to differentiate themselves from their competitors in a growing market.

Ed Chao

The application of 5G location tracking will allow enterprises to expand their use of critical IoT technologies. Along with delivering supercharged data speeds and latency, it will let users benefit from continuous, enhanced precision and accuracy by driving cloud-based cellular location to the sub-metre level.

Hosted in the public or private cloud, it will also allow enterprises to control the privacy and security of sensitive location information. What’s more, the fact it is cloud-based negates the need for heavy infrastructure investment such as Bluetooth beacons or Wi-Fi access points which makes integration simpler and enables rapid, scalable and flexible deployment options. This all means that as well as optimising IoT devices for performance, reliability and security, 5G location technology will enable the realisation of an entire mission-critical ecosystem of IoT use cases, designed to withstand the unprecedented pressures of unpredictable real-world operation.

As enterprises use 5G to enable ever more critical IoT use cases, existing location technologies will no longer be fit for purpose as the outcome of unreliable technology could be severe. As operators vie for their slice of a competitive market, they must leverage new technologies and applications to make themselves stand out from the rest and meet customers’ evolving needs.

Therefore, location technologies should be a key area of development for telecoms providers as they deploy their 5G networks. Without considering location in these network deployments, operators are simply limiting the potential value and functionality of their proposition. By offering secure, accurate, global 5G location technology, they can maximise their ROI and truly unleash the value of 5G to their customers.

The author is Ed Chao, CEO, Polte.

About the author

As CEO of Polte, Chao is leading the charge to position Polte as the 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, TMobile 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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