Tracking the potential of 5G location technology

3rd May 2022
Sam Holland

IoT devices are expected to generate more than half of the world’s data by 2025 according to IDC (International Data Corporation), and location is becoming an increasingly important piece of that data puzzle as technologies move to address more active (as opposed to static) use cases. Ed Chao, CEO at Polte discusses 5G location technology in the IoT.

This article originally appeared in the April '22 magazine issue of Electronic Specifier Design – see ES's Magazine Archives for more featured publications.

In the past, location technology was perceived as a ‘nice to have’, or merely an optional add-on. This thinking is deeply flawed. Location technology 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.

However, existing location technologies including GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth fall short of meeting the stringent requirements for new 5G-enabled use cases when it comes to security, accuracy, and visibility.

The challenge of indoor and outdoor location

Widely used for outdoor location, GPS (or its regional equivalents, Europe’s Galileo and China’s BeiDou) can be inaccurate, as well as suffer from security vulnerabilities or signal failure. Crucially for many IoT use cases, GPS is often challenged by dense urban and indoor environments where line of sight to satellites is not always possible. Buildings and other obstacles can block signals coming from certain directions.

The receiver-satellite geometry may also be poor, resulting in less than perfect results. A technology that is unreliable indoors is hardly ideal for some of the Industry 4.0 use cases that enterprises are exploring. By contrast, the most commonly used indoor location technologies, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, provide higher accuracy than GPS for in-building or urban environments, but their short-range and low penetration make both technologies unsuitable for global or outdoor positioning.

Wi-Fi also brings added power consumption and security vulnerabilities. In Critical IoT environments (such as emergency response scenarios), reliable, secure connectivity and positioning are vital. This means that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, again, aren’t an ideal solution for today’s needs.

Precise positioning with C-LoC

So what’s the solution for highly accurate, highly secure, real-time asset tracking, across both indoor and outdoor, public and private networks? The answer is to leverage inherent capabilities of 5G networks and advance the ecosystem with Cloud Location over Cellular (C-LoC) technology for both Massive IoT and Critical IoT use cases.

The challenges innate in traditional technologies such as those outlined above can be overcome using C-LoC technology. The data required to identify and use globally connected location insights has previously been stuck in mobile operators’ networks and in chipsets, whereas C-LoC can be deployed within the network edge – either in a public cloud, private cloud or directly into the network.

Given its unique edge-to-cloud architecture, C-LoC is also less susceptible to security attacks than other location technologies, while allowing users to benefit from continuous optimisations in the cloud. This enables enterprises to overcome a major hurdle in both capitalising on the edge ecosystem and managing sensitive location data within their own security domains.

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 (wireless area network), it provides highly accurate end to end visibility, with sub-metre X, Y, and Z-axis accuracy delivered by 5G private networks. It can deliver less than three-metre accuracy by a public, macro network.

For Massive IoT, location technology can be deployed over the top of existing cellular networks, therefore enabling global availability without complex network integrations.

Accordingly, computational complexity for location determination is shifted off the device and into the cloud. And this drives Massive IoT devices toward higher security, smaller size, lower cost and longer battery life.

For Critical IoT use cases – which encompasses those mission-critical applications where reliable, low-latency connection is key – C-LoC can enable real-time data transmission for the safer operation of autonomous vehicles, relay potentially life-saving data from workers in hazardous environments, or facilitate safer human-robot collaboration in smart factories.

Next-generation connectivity for next-generation IoT

The ability to securely and accurately enable location insights for IoT use cases is becoming increasingly important. Precise positioning technology that makes use of the ingrained capabilities of 5G, (such as edge computing, high bandwidth, security, and ultra-reliable connectivity), not only provides an incredible opportunity for telcos to differentiate themselves and monetise 5G use cases, but also provides enterprises with the tools they need to realise the true potential of the IoT.

Ultimately, 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. Such a use of 5G location technology is set to transform the next generation of IoT services.

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