Location, Location, Location: Why cloud-based cellular location will unlock the 5G IoT operator opportunity (Reader Forum)

We have begun a new year, but a common challenge still persists: How can operators differentiate their 5G services, especially with more cloud-based and digital native players joining the market? And, crucially, how can operators monetize 5G — and do so efficiently, with low risk?

While these challenges remain major talking points in the telco community, there are also major new opportunities which have opened up in the 5G space. This is thanks to a number of developments over the past few years: the liberalization of — and investment in — spectrum, increasing demand for connectivity, growth of IoT and the steady roll-out of private networks and partnerships.

There’s long been talk of the need for operators to move beyond “dumb pipe” status, with 5G often heralded as the means to do so. However, the fact that differentiation and monetization challenges still exist indicates that many telcos have to unlock some of the growth areas in 5G. There’s no better time than the new year to embark on a new strategy to address these challenges and realize value from 5G to IoT, as there’s certainly plenty of value waiting to be unlocked. 2021 was reported to be the year that 4G and 5G IoT connections overtook 2G and 3G as the segment enabling the largest share of IoT applications globally. It’s little surprise, then, that the 5G IoT market is expected to reach $40 billion by 2026, up from a mere $1.5 billion in 2020.

So, how can operators get a slice of this market pie? Location technology.

Precise positioning technology can utilize the inherent capabilities of 5G — such as high bandwidth, security and ultra-reliable connectivity — to enable a critical part of global IoT and enable operators to add huge amounts of new value to their enterprise network deployments.

In the past, location technology (involving the positioning and monitoring of assets in real time) was perceived as a “nice to have,” merely an optional add-on or feature of 5G. This thinking is deeply flawed. It’s not a feature; it’s a system fundamental to the growth and success of IoT and connected propositions of enterprises in a huge range of sectors. And, by unlocking secure, accurate, global location data for their enterprise customers, operators can gain a competitive edge, providing something far superior than many of the location technologies in widespread use today.

Locating the market opportunity

5G location technology can support the broad range of critical IoT use cases that are being developed for almost every sector of the economy, across both private and macro networks. These use cases require supercharged data speeds and ultra-low latency to enable reliable, real-time communication. Applications include Industry 4.0/smart factories and manufacturing plants, telemedicine use cases like robotic surgery and remote diagnostics, video-enabled drones in disaster zones, safety systems in autonomous cars, as well as automation in utilities plants, mining or agricultural sites.

In addition to improving production and operational efficiencies, highly accurate and secure positioning is essential to enable the next generation of warehouse technology, such as augmented and virtual reality (AR; VR) or robotics. When connected to a private network, embedded with sensors and managed via cloud-based location technology, robotic-assisted exoskeletons or autonomous robots can be used within a smart factory or utility plant, for example, to augment the workforce and add additional capabilities. This includes workers being able to “map” the factory floor and take action virtually with connected robotics.

The market opportunities for operators are clearly there, enabling them to step out of “dumb pipe” territory by offering an enhanced, personalized service. Location technologies, though, are also there and have been in use for a number of years.

Locating the ideal positioning technology

The most commonly known indoor location technologies are Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. These are usually used in combination with wide-area technologies to provide higher accuracy for in-building or urban environments. However, short range and low penetration make both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth useless for global positioning. Wi-Fi also demands added power consumption and security vulnerabilities in both private and public networks. In critical IoT environments, in which reliable connectivity and positioning could literally mean the difference between life and death, security cannot be compromised.

For the outdoor world, global navigation satellite system (GNSS) technologies are also widely used to locate assets, including regional approaches such as Galileo, GPS and BeiDou. GNSS provides good coverage outdoors, but is challenged in dense urban and indoor environments where line of sight to satellites is not possible. GNSS technologies also drain battery life — perhaps not an issue for critical use cases like drones, cars and robots, but increasingly so in other IoT scenarios in the realm of massive IoT.

Finally, Cell-ID. Widely used for asset tracking, this technology falls short as it’s heavily reliant on the device’s communication with and proximity to a base station. Precision ranges from 800m to several kilometers.

The challenges inherent in technologies such as these can be overcome using a single, cost-effective and far superior approach. Cloud-based cellular location, enabled by Cloud Location over Cellular (C-LoC) technology, is the key to unlocking the potential of 5G precise positioning for operators and for their enterprise customers.

Cloud-based cellular location: Enabling enterprises and transforming telco

Cloud-based cellular location, in combination with 4G/5G and seamless roaming integrated into a WAN, provides highly accurate end to end visibility, with sub-meter X, Y and Z-axis accuracy delivered by 5G private networks and less than three-meter accuracy by a public, macro network. Cloud-based cellular location enables accessible, enhanced indoor accuracy with 5G, and as it’s located in the cloud, operators can safeguard data and remove the pain of vendor lock-in for their systems integrators and enterprise customers.

What does it look like in action? In a 5G smart factory, for instance, C-LoC allows enterprises to enable the use of location-based equipment such as connected robotics or vehicles with sub-meter accuracy efficiently and cost-effectively. What’s more, it can facilitate use cases such as high-bandwidth critical applications including AR or VR. In dangerous 5G critical IoT environments, it’s vital that workers can benefit from enhanced precision, accuracy and minimal latency.

The enterprise benefits are massive. But it’s what C-LoC is allowing operators to gain that’s really revolutionizing 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 that will transform operators into next-generation IoT service providers.