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What is 5G Indoor Positioning and How Does It Work?

October 27, 2022
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What is 5G positioning?

The term 5G refers to the fifth generation of mobile networks. As 5G devices continue to roll out there has been a lot of talk about their capabilities and potential. Advertised as far superior to 4G, the 5G network operates with Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MIMO) antennas. These antennas provide a precise orientation of the signal in one specific direction instead of a multidirectional broadcast. Currently, 5G can support more users than 4G, but some roadblocks prevent 5G from being standard across the world. Wireless companies must upgrade their antennas, and phone makers must upgrade the chips in every mobile device.

How does 5G indoor positioning work?

5G positioning uses the wireless communications infrastructure. The 5G device sends a signal to nearby 5G access points with a timestamp. The amount of data transmitted is tiny and uses virtually no bandwidth. Each 5G receiver gets signals at a slightly different time, and from there it’s possible to triangulate the emitter’s position.

Pros and cons of 5G Positioning

Pros

  • Response time. 5G dramatically reduces the time for network devices to respond to commands and reduces latency to less than five milliseconds.
  • Promising use cases. 5G looks promising in use cases such as tracking packages or goods, autonomous farming, and campus geo-fencing.
  • Expanded user access. Data travels to more users through the deployment of 5G. Multi-user, Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MU-MIMO) and 5G allow more users to access data at the same frequency and time rates.
  • Potential positioning accuracy. The super-fast 5G (mmWave) should be capable of achieving a positioning accuracy of one meter or below inside buildings and in dense urban areas. 

Cons

  • Not enough towers to support 5Gmm Wave. The 5G we experience is called sub-6GHz 5G, which is faster than 4G but not sufficient for accurate indoor positioning.
  • Not economical. It takes a lot of money and effort to build a 5G cell tower and is expensive to deploy. For that reason, operators don’t see the economic value of rolling it out nationwide
  • Not needed. Most people don’t require the speeds that 5G offers. Users streaming movies and videos at 4K need only 25Mbp/s which makes 4G more than adequate. 
  • Not private. Unless the 5G network is private, there have been concerns about the security and privacy of the public network. This is due largely to the fact that more users can be connected to the network than ever before. An expanded network increases the attack surface and an enterprise’s exposure to threats.

What challenges does 5G face for indoor positioning?

Although 5G seems promising for indoor positioning accuracy and for asset tracking there are still multiple challenges this technology faces. 

Improvements are still being made to existing cell towers. Instead of building new 5G towers, operators are improving the speed of mobile broadband on Sub-6GHz 5G rather than trying to implement the super-fast 5G (mmWave).

Technical and physical limitations. Although 5G mmWave is super fast its wavelengths have short and weak penetration through physical objects such as walls, doors, trees, etc. which means a larger deployment of towers is needed to provide accurate positioning. How many towers are needed will be determined by blockages and latency. 

Private 5G networks would need to be purchased and deployed in venues. For 5G mmWave to work for accurate indoor positioning, companies would need to build their own private 5G network indoors. This would be done in partnership with operators. The company would have to purchase and deploy expensive 5G hardware and mount the hardware in every room. 

What is the best alternative to 5G indoor positioning?

The most commonly used indoor positioning technology on the market today is Bluetooth Beacons and UWB. Bluetooth Low Energy Beacons (BLE) are the most widely used hardware to obtain accurate positioning. The devices are mounted throughout a building and can be “discovered” and seen by all BLE scanners within a radius. Bluetooth beacons connect the physical and digital worlds by creating a bridge between enabled devices and the person carrying them. The problem with BLE is the amount of hardware necessary for an accurate indoor positioning system. Depending on venue size, up to five beacons are required for every 150 square meters. This increases the cost of installation. 

UWB is a communication channel that spreads information over a wide portion of the frequency spectrum. This allows UWB positioning transmitters to transmit large amounts of data while consuming little transmit energy. UWB can be used for positioning by utilizing the time difference of arrival (TDOA) or the RF signals to obtain the distance between the reference point and the target. The low frequency of UWB pulses enables the signal to effectively pass through obstacles such as walls and objects which improves the UWB positioning accuracy. In fact, UWB provides a high accuracy rate that can minimize error to sub-centimeters. Therefore, UWB positioning can be considered one of the most suitable choices for critical positioning applications that require highly accurate results.

UWB may seem like a great technology for indoor positioning but it still hasn’t been adopted by enough companies to be a viable option. Most mobile devices are not equipped with UWB technology which makes it an unlikely choice for indoor positioning. 

An innovative and less explored concept is an indoor positioning system that doesn’t rely on external hardware. Mapsted is a location-based services firm that has researched and patented a new technology that offers accurate indoor positioning up to 1-3 meters without any Wi-Fi, BLE, or UWB. The award-winning Canadian company has deployed its indoor positioning systems around the world and in many different use cases. The economical choice in comparison to other technologies, Mapsted’s quick and efficient deployment times, and enterprise functionality make it stand out from the competition.  

The future of 5G

In conclusion, the hype surrounding 5G will continue as big companies around the world use this technology to create collaborative mobile robots, self-driving machines, automatic guided vehicles (AGVs), augmented reality (AR) predictive maintenance, and other smart factory technologies. It is possible 5G indoor positioning has a place in the future when used with other technologies such as BLE. 
Undeniably 5G will provide access to many more users at higher speeds. However, many people are wondering if 5G will be used on a conditional basis since the average user doesn’t require the insanely fast 5G mmWave. It’s unlikely that we will see 5G being used for indoor positioning due to its inability to properly penetrate through physical barriers. The technology still requires improvement and will need to drastically reduce the price for it to be a viable option for most companies. Innovative technologies such as Mapsted’s location-based solutions remain an accessible and affordable alternative for businesses of all sizes worldwide.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Is it true that 5G doesn’t work indoors?

Ans. 5G mmWave has a very difficult time penetrating through walls, doors, trees, and even humans. Companies would need to install special 5G hardware in every room and on every floor, leading to extremely high project costs.

Q2. Can 5G achieve precise indoor localization?

Ans. With the proper deployment of 5G hardware, precise localization should be possible as long as physical obstructions are few.

Q3. How accurate are 5G networks for positioning?

Ans. 5G mmWave networks should be capable of a positioning accuracy of one meter or below inside buildings and dense urban areas.

Q4. How can I boost my 5G signal indoors?

Ans. Special hardware known as smart cells must be deployed in every room and on every floor.

Q5. How fast is 5G indoors?

Ans. 5G dramatically reduces the time for network devices to respond to commands and reduces latency to less than 5 milliseconds.

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