Open Ecosystem RAN

Polte and VMware partner to bring precise positioning to 5G open radio access networks


Enabled by VMware RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC), the joint solution aims to accelerate new 5G use cases ranging from Industry 4.0 to Critical IoT, marks the beginning of a new era of innovation in RAN 


Last week, Polte announced a partnership with VMware to enable a solution for global ‘5G Precise Positioning’ using the VMware RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC). In this blog, we explain why this marks the beginning of a new era of innovation in RAN and shed more light on what this partnership is all about. 

The big picture: we are entering a new era of RAN innovation 

For well over a decade now, the industry has been attempting to use rich information from radio access networks (RAN) to build various value-added capabilities for external services, e.g., using the RAN to infer location of devices for location-based services in areas where GPS (Global Positioning System) is not available or reliable, using predictions of RAN-layer device throughputs to assist adaptive bitrate selections of over-the-top (OTT) video-streaming applications in areas where the RAN is the bottleneck, using coverage/signal predictions to choose the optimal navigation routes for connected automobiles, drones or robots, etc. However, due to lack of a standard architecture and open interfaces to obtain such RAN information, these efforts have been largely restricted to small-scale proofs of concept and trials, and not yet successful at widespread deployment or adoption.  

Enter the RAN Intelligent Controllers (RICs). Originally, the Near-Real-Time and the Non-Real-Time RICs, as defined by the O-RAN Alliance in their reference open RAN architecture, were envisioned as the platform to facilitate the control and management of the RAN by 3rdparty intelligence via open interfaces. However, as these open interfaces began to be specified and standardized, the industry quickly realized that such interfaces can also be used to build and widely deploy the value-added capabilities that it long desired from the RAN. For example, in scenarios where GPS is not available or reliable, we can now design xApps/rApps1 that infer the locations of devices using RAN information and expose them to any external location-based service that needs them – this is in fact the core of the Polte-VMware partnership. Similarly, we can design xApps/rApps to produce various kinds of intelligence based on RAN information (e.g., RAN-layer throughput predictions, coverage/signal predictions, real-time network load information, etc.) and expose them to external applications or services to enhance their capabilities and/or performance.  

In other words, the RICs can become the platform for deploying a wide variety of innovative RAN capabilities that will enhance the performance and experience of various OTT applications and edge services. In addition, the RICs now offer a practical path to market to the many start-ups and small companies that have been innovating in this space but had so far found it hard to bring their technology to a market that has traditionally been dominated by a few large players. Moreover, many of these RAN capabilities can also be monetized by communication service providers (CSPs), e.g., by charging providers of OTT applications or edge services for their use of the value-added service APIs provided by the RICs, thus the RICs help CSPs create new revenue streams and better monetize their 5G RAN investments.  

In essence, the RICs are ushering in a new era of innovation in the RAN, and our partnership with Polte is the beginning. 

The Polte and VMware partnership 

Polte and VMware are partnering to bring precise network-based positioning to 5G open RAN.  

Positioning refers to estimating the position or location of a device. Precise positioning (sub 10 meters or sometimes even sub 1 meter) is critically needed in many 5G use cases ranging from Industry 4.0 to Critical IoT for capabilities such as dynamic asset tracking and intelligent navigation. GPS is the most widely used positioning system in the world and can provide accuracies on the order of a few meters. However, to achieve such accuracies, the GPS receiver mounted on the tracking device needs to have unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites2. Obstacles like mountains and buildings block the GPS signals – as a result, in dense urban areas, hilly terrains, and many common indoor scenarios, GPS-based positioning is often unreliable and sometimes even unavailable. In such scenarios, RAN-based positioning has emerged as a promising alternative to GPS for wireless connected devices. 

Polte’s patented positioning technology employs advanced signal processing algorithms to derive the precise position of a device purely based on its transmitted RF (Radio Frequency) signal. It does not require base stations to broadcast dedicated positioning reference signals, nor does it depend on the devices’ capability to process such information. As part of this partnership, Polte will make its technology available as an xApp for the VMware Distributed RIC3, augmented by an rApp for the VMware Centralized RIC. VMware will provide software development kits (SDK) along with lab/testing support to accelerate the development and integration of Polte’s xApp and rApp. Polte and VMware will also collaborate to standardize the use case and interfaces in O-RAN so the solution can be deployed in any O-RAN compliant system.  

The solution, as illustrated in Figure 1, consists of the following key components. 

  • VMware Distributed RIC and VMware Centralized RIC are responsible for terminating the interfaces with the RAN, core network and other external entities, and offering service-based APIs for Polte to develop xApp and rApp for precise positioning.  
  • Polte’s xApp and rApp are responsible for performing the positioning computation and exposing the device positions via the RIC APIs to any entity that needs them (which could be external location-based services, or even other xApps and rApps that could benefit from location awareness, e.g., for beamforming selection, mobility management, etc.). 

Figure 1: High-Level Architecture of the Polte-VMware Solution 

This solution is expected to offer sub-meter location accuracies in a secure and cloud-native manner without causing additional overhead on the 5G base stations and devices that would otherwise be incurred for the positioning computation. As the announcement summarized, “This partnership aims to address the challenges of security, accuracy, and seamless cellular continuity that previously created barriers to access for 5G Precise Positioning within use cases ranging from Industry 4.0 to 5G Critical IoT.”  

For more exciting updates and announcements with respect to VMware RIC, please stay tuned to this portal.  Please visit our RAN webpage to understand how VMware is enabling the transformation of the RAN.


Footnotes:

1 The terms xApp and rApp refer to the applications that are hosted in the Near-Real-Time RIC and the Non-Real-Time RIC respectively in the O-RAN reference architecture.

2 Satellite Navigation – GPS – How It Works

3 VMware Distributed RIC and VMware Centralized RIC are production-grade implementations of the O-RAN defined Near-Real-Time RIC and Non-Real-Time RIC respectively.

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