Positioning rapidly finds its place in 5G ecosystem

Research find that while 5G positioning is developing quickly and could be featured in billions of consumer and enterprise devices by 2030, the journey to commercial success is not without hurdles

5G positioning technology has the potential to bring major benefits to location deployments across many consumer and enterprise positioning use cases, and full and proper utilisation of next-generation infrastructures will lead to more than 3.6 billion 5G-enabled device shipments by 2030, according to a study from ABI Research.

However, in its Indoor location and RTLS market data report, the analyst warns that despite the heady optimism for its prospects, 5G positioning will not reach its true potential until the arrival of 5G-Advanced, leading to accelerated adoption from 2026 onwards.

5G-Advanced is designed to bring continuous enhancements in mobile network capabilities and use case-based support to help mobile operators with 5G commercialisation, long-term development of artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning (ML), and network energy savings for a fully automated network and a sustainable future.

Mobile standards body 3GPP approved the Release-18 package in December 2021, making the official start of 5G-Advanced, with the planned freeze date in December 2023. An ABI study from July 2022 predicted that after coming into commercial availability life in 2025, 5G-Advanced will grow so quickly that 75% of mobile base stations will be upgraded to support the new standard by 2030.

While 5G positioning is largely specified in early releases of 5G 3GPP standards, ABI stressed that the technology will become commercially appealing and competitive only with 5G-Advanced, which will enable real-time positioning over 5G to be more accurate and power efficient, with competitive end-terminal pricing points.

ABI Research location technologies research analyst Mark Qi said: “Reduced Capability [RedCap] will play a fundamental role in enabling new consumer use-cases such as people, pet and consumer asset tracking through simple, cost-effective and power-efficient devices.

“Further potential 5G-Advanced enhancements include reductions in latency and power consumption, enhancements via machine learning and sensor fusion, efficiency improvements, and cooperative localisation using side link relays.”

For the enterprise sector, ABI believes that such higher accuracy, energy constrained, and cost-effective devices are required for 5G positioning to support many of the varied use cases desired across industrial, logistics, healthcare, smart city and other environments. The analyst expects support for this will come as the industry grows and hardware becomes increasingly commercialised, though this would likely take several years.

“Enterprises are still looking for a standout solution when it comes to enabling location in a scalable and cost-effective manner,” said Qi. “While there are very few commercially available 5G positioning options, there are early 5G positioning deployments from the likes of Huawei, ZTE and Nokia leverage systems based on Release 16.

“These solutions, however, lack the accuracy, latency, cost-effectiveness and power efficiency in line with most end-user requirements, and only by resolving these issues will enterprises be compelled to deploy 5G at a large scale.

“We can expect an earlier and more incremental deployment of 5G positioning in enterprise compared to the consumer market where private 5G deployments are gaining momentum and enterprises are increasingly looking towards digitising systems by leveraging positioning.”

The analyst also cautioned that the availability of equipment based on 3GPP Release 17 and Release 18 will ultimately address all the enterprise pain points and will drive increased interest and support from telecom and chipset vendors such as Nokia, Qualcomm, Ericsson, and Huawei.

ABI Research expects 5G-Advanced products, the majority of which will support 5G positioning, to reach the market beginning in 2025/2026, with wide-scale adoption arriving by 2027 at the earliest.

“The success of 5G positioning or otherwise will much depend on timely development of the 3GPP specifications, ecosystem formation, and commercialisation of 5G positioning solutions from infrastructure suppliers, device OEMs, and mobile network operators alike,” Qi concluded.

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