Whether smartphones, drones, robots or autonomous vehicles, many of the innovations making headlines at this year's MWC in Barcelona absolutely depend on GNSS. Advanced positioning services like those being delivered by Galileo are helping to transform the latest technologies into functional mass market solutions.
Mobile World Congress (MWC) is the largest mobile connectivity event in the world. The 2019 edition in Barcelona brought together futuristic and pioneering technologies from more than 2400 companies. The European GNSS Agency (GSA) was there as well, promoting Galileo, Europe's flagship satellite navigation programme.
One catchphrase seemingly on everyone's lips in Barcelona was 'the future is now'. For the GSA, the future is 'here and now'. The 'here' of course refers to location, without which many of today's leading-edge mobile and connected systems simply wouldn't work.
A case in point is the new Ooredoo pilot-less flying taxi, the world’s first self-driving, 5G-connected, aerial passenger vehicle. Recently unveiled and test-flown in Qatar, it can transport two people for up to 20 minutes at 130 km per hour. Essentially a massive multi-rotor drone with a very comfortable passenger compartment, the vehicle made a big splash at MWC Barcelona, where Congress attendees were queuing up for a chance just to sit in it. Of course the flying taxi relies on state-of-the-art, satellite-based navigation technologies like Galileo to ensure precise and reliable positioning.
Ooredoo, a Doha-based company, highlighted 5G connectivity as a key enabling feature of the new flying taxi. Indeed, 5G was a sort of recurring theme throughout the Barcelona event. 5G represents the latest generation of cellular mobile communications, delivering ultra-wide bandwidth and massive input and output capabilities. This means increased speed and flexibility, enabling vastly improved performance and making possible a variety of new services.
GNSS and 5G come together
"What we are seeing right now is the convergence of 5G and GNSS," said GSA officer Alberto Fernández-Wyttenbach. "Together you get the combination of precision location from GNSS, and then with 5G you get the speed for real-time reactivity and control, so fast 5G connectivity is a perfect partner for GNSS. We know, for example, in the automotive industry, you have an important association that is working to bring 5G into automotive, an industry where GNSS is already a requisite feature."
The 5G Automotive Association (5GAA) is a global, cross-industry organisation that includes companies from the automotive, technology, and telecommunications industries, working to develop complete solutions for future road mobility and transport. 5GAA sees 5G as a vital platform for enabling Cooperative Intelligent Transportation Systems (C-ITS). With its exceptional bandwidth, 5G can easily handle safety-critical connectivity while supporting enhanced 'Vehicle-to-Everything' (V2X) communications and other connected mobility needs.
"We know that some 5GAA members are looking at 5G as the way to send real-time GNSS corrections to cars," said Fernández-Wyttenbach, "because it gives you this very quick reaction time."
Korea Telecom's new 5G-based road emergency response system, also on display at MWC, is a clear example of the synergy that is possible by combining 5G connectivity and GNSS-based navigation. Europe already has in place its eCall system, where a call centre automatically receives location information from vehicles in distress, thanks to on-board GNSS. The Korea Telecom´s 5G Remote Cockpit system goes a step further. In the event of an emergency where a driver is incapacitated, a human operator at a call centre actually takes over control of the car remotely, driving it to a location where emergency services are available.
"The technology is ready," said Fernández-Wyttenbach. "5G gives you very fast communication, which allows actual control of the car. Without that capability of near-instant transmission of the control signal, you cannot drive a car remotely; if you tried to turn the car around a curve in the road, you would be too late and you would crash. With 5G this is now possible." Complementarity is the key thing, he said, "because of course, without the GNSS positioning as a starting point, 5G cannot accomplish this kind of thing by itself."
There are limitations to 5G; the connection is faster and broader, but a certain density of transmitting stations is needed, even more so than with a 4G connection, so there will likely be some areas with imperfect coverage.
Nevertheless, said Fernández-Wyttenbach, "This year everybody is speaking about 5G. Before, 5G was mostly about consumer electronics, but now we have these transverse markets that are moving all the time." One of these is automotive, as mentioned above. Another is healthcare, where a number of companies are now demonstrating the delivery of medical services to remote locations supported by fast 5G connectivity.
Putting Galileo in your hands
The one thing you'd expect to see at an event with 'Mobile' in the name is smartphones, and there were indeed a number of remarkable new models to be admired at MWC. Of particular note were the new folding phones. The Samsung Galaxy Fold and the Huawei Mate X both feature displays that fold open into a small tablet-like format. The Mate X also features a 5G modem, and of course all are Galileo-ready.
Since 2016, when the first Galileo-enabled smartphone was launched, more and more manufacturers have been choosing to include Galileo-capable GNSS receivers in their premium handsets, in order to provide users with better accuracy and availability, especially in difficult environments.
The success of Galileo in terms of its uptake by smartphone manufacturers is something the GSA likes to talk about, and there could be no better place to do so than at MWC 2019. A range of Galileo-enabled mobile devices were on display in the GSA's exhibition space, highlighting European GNSS's increasing presence in smartphones. At last count, there were about 80 smartphone models equipped with Galileo, and all of that is thanks to the work of the GSA, which has made downstream market uptake a priority.
Also getting noticed at MWC 2019 were two recent dual-frequency GNSS models from Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi, the Mi8 and the top-of-the-line Mi9. Traditionally, mobile, location-based applications have been powered by single-frequency GNSS receivers operating under stringent battery-power and footprint constraints. With a dual-frequency chipset, these devices now benefit from better accuracy, ionosphere error cancellation, improved tracking and better multipath resistance.
Dual-frequency GNSS chipsets are of course also appearing in the automotive sector. With connected cars and autonomous vehicles soon to hit the roads, there is a clear need for accurate and reliable positioning information. And in case anyone missed it, Galileo is now the world's leading provider of dual-frequency GNSS, with more operational dual-frequency satellites in orbit than any other global system.
The GSA's Market Development Officer in charge of LBS Justyna Redelkievicz said, "We're seeing the new smartphones, the autonomous cars, drones and robotics – it's all here and it all needs location. At the GSA, we believe accuracy matters and we are here to say it, loud and clear. We are happy with how things are going with Galileo. It's going very well, it's growing, we have more users, and it's dual!"
Plainly, vehicle positioning and navigation remain key areas of innovation for GNSS technologies. In parallel, the GSA has been working hard to get these same technologies into people's hands. Based on what attendees could see at MWC 2019, this effort would seem to be paying off.
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