Finnish kit vendor Nokia and German manufacturer Bosch have shown off a proof of concept for 5G positioning tech, also claiming 6G will be able to track the position of any object, connected or not.

The ‘precision positioning technology’ tracks mobile and portable devices connected to the 5G network and is intended for Industry 4.0 use cases. It has been deployed in a Bosch production plant in Germany, and has apparently shown an accuracy within 50cm in 90% of the factory footprint, under ‘realistic manufacturing conditions.’

The proof of concept involved using a private 5G network to determine the position of automated guided vehicles (AGVs), mobile robots and mobile control panels around the plant. We’re told the innovation is that while normal 5G positioning works by measuring the time it takes for mobile signals to travel from a device to base stations and anchor nodes, this system equips 5G nodes with multiple receive antennas, which enable the network to detect the incoming angles of signals. Apparently all this ‘achieves a level of accuracy well beyond the current cellular position state-of-the-art.’

“Knowing where things are is generally very valuable information in manufacturing,” said Andreas Mueller, Chief Expert at Bosch. “While today usually separate systems are used for connecting and locating devices, this may be done via an integrated private 5G solution in the future. The proof-of-concept conducted jointly with Nokia underpins the leading role of Bosch in exploring new opportunities for our customers and developing the Factory of the Future.”

The firms also reckon by the time 6G comes around, installations will be used to detect the position of any object whether it is connected or not, ‘which will allow 6G signals to function similarly to radar, giving users an awareness of their surroundings beyond their traditional senses.’

On that note, Peter Vetter, President of Bell Labs Core Research at Nokia added: “Bosch and Nokia Bell Labs foresee a future where networks do far more than communicate. Soon, 5G will track connected devices more precisely than satellites, in places satellites can’t reach. In the next decade, 6G will be capable of sensing all objects in their coverage areas regardless of whether they contain active radios. We are creating networks that will endow humans with a digital 6th sense.”

The 6G drum was always going to start getting beaten at some point, and it looks as though we’ll hear a fair bit of banging at MWC next month. It seems as if in the years to come there will be some overlap between the promises made about what 5G is going to evolve into, and what 6G will bring when it arrives towards the end of the decade.

Nailing down the distinctions between the two, and the usefulness of the concepts they throw out won’t exactly be made easier by talk of endowing humans with a digital 6th sense, but 6G at least is still so conceptual at the moment you can forgive some element of hand waving when it comes to its specific capabilities and benefits.

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