Positioning in 5G

Precise positioning plays a key role in the Internet of Things and particularly in semi-automated and autonomous systems in industry. The availability of reliable positioning information is therefore an essential factor in the success of Industry 4.0. One solution is to build and operate 5G infrastructures not only for communication but also for positioning applications.


Existing mobile communication standards such as 3G and 4G/LTE were developed primarily for voice and data communication. Indeed, support for positioning applications was only driven forward by statutory requirements – for example, in relation to localizing emergency calls. This is currently achieved using the following methods:

  • Enhanced cell ID (E-CID) can locate mobile devices by identifying a cell, providing approximate location information that can be enhanced by analyzing additional delay information.
  • UTDOA (uplink time difference of arrival) and OTDOA (observed time difference of arrival) can determine the position of a mobile device by measuring the time delay.

At best, these methods have permitted accuracies of between 20 and 50 meters over existing mobile networks.

Prospective positioning capabilities of 5G NR

The standardization of 5G is an ongoing process that involves agreeing on clearly defined developments, which are then published in releases. In June 2018, the first generation of 5G New Radio (NR) was defined in Release 15 of the standardization process for the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a worldwide collaboration by standardization bodies for mobile communications.

As with LTE, 5G will also undergo several stages of development within the framework of future releases. With the upcoming Release 16, the aim is to achieve a horizontal positioning accuracy of less than 3 meters indoors for the first time, and we expect to see further accuracy improvements in Releases 17 and 18 (see box). The 5G positioning architecture will also be able to incorporate a multitude of sensors, paving the way for hybrid systems that are specially tailored to and optimized for the requirements of a given application.



Thomas von der Grün, Business Unit Coordinator Positioning


5G developments in our research areas

Delay-based methods such as OTDOA and UTDOA allow positioning with submeter accuracy over 5G networks thanks to the high 5G bandwidth of up to 100 MHz for frequency band FR1 (< 6 GHz) and the resulting increase in time resolution. With a bandwidth of 400 MHz in frequency band FR2 (> 6 GHz), positioning performance will be able to extend into the decimeter range.

To test these innovations, Fraunhofer IIS in Nuremberg operates a 5G test bed focused on industrial applications. This includes the installation of a UTDOA system for precise positioning. The software-defined radio (SDR) platform allows the performance of 5G positioning to be determined at a very early stage and put through its paces in specific industrial applications. The challenging task of evaluating the actual capabilities of 5G depends on all kinds of implementation details, as well as on hardware and software support in mobile communication devices after 2020. We also provide our customers with advice and expertise to support them during implementation.

3GPP releases: planned or projected horizontal positioning accuracy in buildings

  • Release 16: < 3 meters, completion of standard in 2019/possible availability of compliant devices from approx. 2021
  • Release 17: < 1 meter, planned completion of standard in 2021/possible availability of compliant devices from approx. 2023
  • Release 18: up to a few decimeters, planned completion of standard in 2023

Positioning applications with 5G

Thanks to the ongoing standardization, 5G positioning will help to boost efficiency in industrial and logistical processes over the next few years. One new application to benefit from this significant increase in positioning accuracy is the use of drones to transport production parts in industrial settings – and, many companies are already using driverless transport systems that navigate through the manufacturing process autonomously. However, precise positioning with 5G is also of interest for the many AV/VR applications that are now seeing greater use in manufacturing and remote applications.

Alongside our research activities in the area of 5G, we at Fraunhofer IIS offer not only the expertise but also the premises to test 5G in industrial and logistical processes under real-life conditions at our 5G test bed for Industry 4.0 applications, which receives support from the Free State of Bavaria. As well as these real-life implementations, the accompanying 5G test center can also emulate and simulate 5G use cases, helping to bridge the gap between the completion of a new release and the availability of compliant hardware.


Fraunhofer IIS has 20 years of experience with various positioning methods, such as UTDOA, DoA, RSSI, GNSS, and multi-sensor fusion. This experience underpins its expertise in the implementation of positioning over 5G networks in an industrial setting. As well as implementing a wide range of solutions, we have also worked alongside various companies to bring applications to the market.

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