ESA paving the way to 5G positioning

5G field experiments vehicles G field experiments vehicles
Experiments execution configuration: Car A, in near field and Car B in far field (left); close-up Car A rooftop with GNSS and LTE antennas.


As part of the activities of the 5G GNSS Task Force initiative, ESA has defined and coordinated the first field-test campaign for hybrid positioning paving the way to future 5G positioning. This campaign was executed jointly by GMV and DLR. It included GNSS with high-accuracy corrections - both for high-end and mass-market receivers -, LTE positioning, inertial sensors and even Ultra-WideBand (UWB) vehicle-to-vehicle ranging. Engineers from U-blox, NoVatel, Deutsche Telekom and ESA strongly contributed to the preparation and execution of this campaign.

When considering near-term technological catalysts that will have a massive influence on the world, there is perhaps no greater advancement than 5G. Fifth-generation mobile network, or 5G, is the newest mobile wireless technology to be deployed. While you get caught up in the hype, it is important to remember that 5G is not “just” about faster internet connectivity but is expected to be a revolution in the wireless market. To cover new use cases and user needs, 5G will combine different wireless technologies (4G LTE, Wi-Fi and 5G newly defined air interfaces, i.e. NR – New Radio) and exploit new frequency bands, including mm-wave bands well above 6 GHz. Much of the thrill about 5G exists because of how it will ease greater developments in major technology disruptive trends such as autonomous vehicles, Internet-of-Things (IoT), smart cities, and drones.


5G positioning areas
3GPP standardisation: areas to which ESA is contributing.


In late 2016, the European Space Agency (ESA), through the European GNSS Evolutions Programme, took the initiative to shape the support of high-accuracy positioning services in 4G and 5G networks, by contributing to 3GPP and other standardization bodies [1], consolidating 5G positioning use cases and related requirements [2-3] and supporting the adoption of all GNSS constellations for high accuracy data (RTK, PPP) dissemination via 4G and 5G [4-5]. “The first step required is understanding what the upcoming disruptive applications are, and to identify the potential requirements associated with them.” says Riccardo de Gaudenzi, head of ESA’s Electrical Department in the Directorate of Technology, Engineering and Quality, and one of the initiators of the Task Force. “For these use cases, positioning and timing are key elements. Therefore, Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) aspects, provided via GNSS, the terrestrial communication infrastructure, and eventually hybridization of technologies, are extremely important.” As such, the integration of GNSS (including augmentation information), New Radio-dependent technologies and complementary sensors, is expected to play the main role in responding to many of the new localization user needs in 5G [2].

Under development for years, the 5G network rollout is about to start at a global level and expected to cost about $225 billion between now and 2025. Some of the US operators, in particular AT&T and T-Mobile, have 5G development and deployment plans at various stages of development. The first 5G-enabled smartphones are just beginning to arrive and real-world tests of the technology are underway in a few dozen US cities and a small number of other locations worldwide. In Europe, the rollout of 5G networks is happening at a slower pace. More than half of Europe has yet to allocate the licenses that operators need to make the 5G networks reality. For this reason, the execution of field-tests for hybrid positioning based on GNSS and terrestrial networks, exploits the use of signals transmitted by 4G networks.

As part of ESA’s initiative to understand the place of GNSS in the 5G landscape, “the GINTO5G project was launched to support the 3GPP standardization activities and in order to carry out state-of-the-art field experiments and simulations, as well as assessing innovative techniques” remarks Miguel Manteiga Bautista, Head of ESA’s GNSS Evolutions & Strategy Division at the Directorate of Navigation. “For the hybrid positioning field-tests, ESA and its partners set up a collaboration with Deutsche Telekom, regarding the use of its 4G network in Munich including relevant information for positioning; and NovAtel, who provided state-of-the-art GNSS equipment and corrections services i.e. TerraStar-X”. The field-tests incorporated GNSS receivers (geodetic-grade, automotive-grade, and mass-market – see figures), inertial sensors and Software Defined Radios. This equipment was all integrated on two vehicles connected by Ultra-Wideband (UWB) modules to measure relative distance, and equipped with custom-made rooftop platforms to accommodate various configurations in parallel.


Detail design of experimental platforms - Car A (left) and Car B (right)
Detail design of experimental platforms - Car A (left) and Car B (right)


GNSS equipment installed in Car A.
GNSS equipment installed in Car A.


The two vehicles were driven in a platoon configuration for a week in order to cover carefully planned trajectories reaching all type of environments: from the least demanding (open-sky – around DLR´s site in Oberpfaffenhofen) to the most demanding (deep urban – Maxvorstadt Munich).

The next phase of the project will go through a thorough processing of gathered data and assessment of hybridization of the GNSS and terrestrial collected measurements. After this phase is concluded, additional field experiments are foreseen, first a similar campaign using drones to take place this summer (2019) aims to collecting GNSS data and LTE signals, and after, another experiment for investigating power consumption due to GNSS chip in IoT devices will take place.

5G GNSS Task Force 

ESA oversaw this initial field test campaign as part of its 5G GNSS Task Force, coordinated with the European Commission and the European GNSS Agency through the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation in Satellite Navigation.The field test campaign was undertaken by DLR and the GMV company, with contributions by engineers from NovAtel, u-blox and Deutsche Telekom as well as ESA.In 2016 the 5G GNSS Task Force within H2020 took the initiative to shape the support of high-accuracy positioning services in 4G and 5G networks, to contribute to the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, 3GPP, worldwide standardisation effort.These field tests are executed within the GNSS Integration into 5G wireless networks or GINTO5G project. Undertaken through ESA’s European GNSS Evolution Programme, this project is being is executed by a consortium composed by GMV, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB), DLR, u-blox and Telefonica I+D. Currently, UAB is involved in the thorough processing of all the data gathered during the field test campaign, leading into models and simulation tools and possibly additional field experiments.


[1]       Prieto-Cerdeira R., Ries L., Grec F., Cioni S., de Gaudenzi R., Manteiga-Bautista M., “The role of GNSS in 5G Wireless Networks”, NAVITEC 2018, December 2018.

[2]       3GPP TR 22.872, “Study on positioning use cases (FS_5G_ HYPOS)”, v.16.1.0. 2018-09. 

[3]       3GPP TS 22.261, “Service requirements for the 5G system”, v16.7.0 3GPP Release 16, 2019-03.

[4]       3GPP RP-170813, “New WID: UE Positioning Accuracy Enhancements for LTE”, Nokia, Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell, RAN#75, Dubrovnik, Croatia, March 2017.

[5]       3GPP TS 36.366. “Evolved Universal Terrestrial Radio Access (E-UTRA); LTE Positioning Protocol (LPP)”, v15.3.0, Release 15, 2019-03.

Points of Contact:

ESA 5G GNSS Task Force Coordinator - Roberto Prieto-Cerdeira -

GINTO5G Technical Officer – Florin-Catalin Grec -