Skip navigation
Like what you’re reading?

Integrated Sensing and Communication unlocks spatial location of objects

Available in English 简体中文
  • Integrated Sensing and Communication (ISAC) enables the spatial location of objects by integrating sensing with communication capabilities in mobile networks.
  • ISAC enables a new category of use cases for the location of drones, vehicles, humans and other animals.
  • ISAC is planned to be part of the 6G standard, with preparation work ongoing in 3GPP release 19 (Pre-6G).
  • Advanced 5G markets, such as the US, play a vital role in developing basic solutions and ecosystems on top of mobile networks. This active involvement validates the solution concepts and accelerates the pace of market adoption.

President and Head of Ericsson North America

Automated network operations, Transform business

President and Head of Ericsson North America

Contributor (+1)

President and Head of Ericsson North America

With the advent of 5G, we have begun the journey to provide precise positioning to connected devices. A new exciting field is the introduction of Integrated Sensing and Communication (ISAC) capabilities. With ISAC, networks can perform spatial location (size, shape, location, velocity and direction) for different types of objects without being connected to them. This blog post explores the use cases we expect to see in the US and the importance of aligning these use cases, the ecosystem and business models with the evolution of the technology.

High-level ISAC technology overview

The fundamental idea of ISAC is to share the mobile communications infrastructure and transform networks into sensors for the spatial location of objects that are not necessarily connected.

The sensing and communication capabilities in networks can be integrated on multiple levels, including sites, spectrum, radio hardware, waveforms and signals. By combining sensing with the mobile communications infrastructure, we can create network-wide sensing capabilities.

ISAC’s spatial location capabilities are versatile, enabling the identification of an object’s size and shape, location, speed and direction. The granularity and accuracy are bandwidth dependent, with higher bandwidth providing higher resolutions.

The level of complexity involved in spatially locating an object depends on factors such as the spectrum used, the amount of clutter in the environment, the object’s speed, whether the object is airborne or on the ground and the level of accuracy needed.

Application developers can use ISAC-generated data sets to enhance applications that require spatial location of connected devices beyond current positioning capabilities and for locating objects that are not connected or connected to a different network.

A recent Ericsson blog post covers the details of the enabling technology.

Use cases enabled by ISAC

Several strong market trends drive the market and potential for ISAC. The growing number of robots and autonomous vehicles need advanced tools to map the world around them along with real-time data to avoid collisions with other objects while moving. ISAC capabilities are superior to cameras in the dark and in poor weather conditions. ISAC also extends availability and reaches further than dedicated short-range radar solutions. In some cases, ISAC enables new use cases and can complement and enhance existing solutions.  

3GPP has identified 32 different use cases for the spatial location of humans, animals, vehicles and drones. The subset of the use cases below, structured into three broader groups and a forward-looking section, can serve as a starting point for ISAC business development activities in the US.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

The growing interest in UAVs across several industry sectors will lead to more flying objects near the ground.

ISAC can make a difference for UAVs across multiple use cases:

While UAVs are equipped with onboard sensors to guide their flight paths, the capabilities of onboard sensors are limited in low light/dark and rainy conditions. ISAC flight trajectory tracking enables UAVs to operate in all conditions by augmenting onboard sensors with network-based sensing capabilities.

UAVs face a mix of airspace situations: unrestricted use, designated flight corridors and no-flight zones. No-flight zones for UAVs extend beyond the no-fly zones around airports and can include private or business properties, railway lines and sensitive government functions. ISAC UAV intruder detection protects against unauthorized entry of UAVs by alerting affected properties, humans and vehicles to take preventive or corrective actions.

With the sheer number of UAVs expected in the future, avoiding collisions in the air will be as important as on the ground. Mid-air collisions not only affect the involved parties, but they can also create further damage when hitting the ground in urban and suburban areas. ISAC network-assisted sensing to avoid collisions is of particular interest in densely populated metropolitan areas with a high number of UAVs in operation.

Transport and automotive

ISAC can be an essential complement to onboard sensors that increase safety for the transport and automotive sectors. The transport and automotive sectors face challenges in serving a growing population in metropolitan areas, where humans, bikes, cars and transport vehicles must coexist safely on available routes and walkways. The transition to automated systems working as copilots or autopilots requires accurate information on the surrounding environment.

Modern vehicles’ Advanced Driving Assistance Systems (ADAS) rely on onboard sensors. These sensors have limited reach and are further limited by disturbing objects. A sensor in the network can see beyond the reach of onboard radars and cameras, making ISAC vehicle sensing for ADAS a valuable addition to onboard sensors.

Like humans, autonomous vehicles face challenges finding parking spots in high-traffic areas. ISAC offers a new type of sensing for parking space determination. The network can identify and share information about available parking spots with vehicles searching for an empty place.

Busy city crossroads are also challenging from a security perspective, even more so when obstacles are present. The ISAC use case for sensing at crossroads with or without obstacles can alert drivers on dangers caused by abnormal activities such as accidents and hidden objects making sudden moves. This use case increases safety for the most vulnerable groups, such as humans walking, biking or riding scooters or motorcycles in heavy traffic situations.  

Industry and logistics

As US manufacturing reshores and modernizes, businesses are taking advantage of technological advancements to create highly automated factories. A high level of automation, with large numbers of Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) and Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs), puts pressure on the coexistence of humans and robots/cobots in factories and warehouses.

AGVs are constantly on the move and rely on accurate mapping of the location and information about their surrounding environment. AGV detection and tracking in factories is an ISAC use case where sensing capabilities add values similar to the ones seen for vehicles.

The arms on AMRs are constantly moving, which is why some AMRs are placed in cages to prevent collisions with humans or other objects. The ISAC use case AMR collision avoidance in smart factories adds a layer of visibility for AMRs to avoid collisions, potentially eliminating the need for security cages.

Connected tools, as long as they are powered up and connected, can be tracked and located, allowing smart factories to keep an accurate inventory. ISAC's integrated positioning and sensing in factory halls add a layer of visibility by sensing all objects on the factory floor or in a warehouse.

Improve network performance

Besides enabling new exciting services, ISAC can also improve network performance. By leveraging environmental information about the surroundings, the network can tune itself for improved performance. For example, in upcoming spectrum, line-of-sight blocking can be predicted and users can be proactively switched to other beams. Environmental information can also be used to improve beam management.

Additional use cases

ISAC can also improve immersive experiences, preventive health care and public safety. The improvement of immersive experiences includes tailoring the experience to the user's surroundings and changing it as the user moves with their (Extended Reality) XR devices. ISAC for healthcare focuses on remote healthcare at home, allowing caregivers to monitor the movements of care recipients remotely to identify movements deviating from standard patterns. ISAC is suitable for public safety, such as for lakes and rivers close to buildings, and for identifying when water levels reach a critical point that should trigger notifications to first responders and citizens.

ISAC is in the early stages of use case definitions and will evolve with the sensing capabilities and the spectrum used.

A growth opportunity on top of existing mobile networks

Ericsson sees ISAC as an opportunity to expand what mobile networks can support and the role networks can play. The integration of sensing and communication capabilities (site, spectrum and hardware) can enable broad sensing capabilities at low incremental cost.

The new values unlocked with the exposure of new data sets on the spatial location of connected and unconnected objects are attractive to application developers’ innovation agenda.

The elements in the value chain will be refined, and value propositions will be crafted around the following core building blocks: 

  • capturing of spatial location information with sensing capabilities integrated in mobile networks
  • aggregating the data for specifical geographical areas, such as airspace, roads and buildings
  • interpreting the data, with or without assistance from AI, for accurate representation what is moving and how
  • exposing sensor data from networks via open APIs to aggregators and application developers
  • using sensor data in applications serving humans or autonomous systems in different forms

The data captured by sensor capability in networks is a new type of data, and privacy and security considerations will evolve as the technology matures. The value chain is in early stages of development and can generate multiple viable models for linking the building blocks.

The novel nature of ISAC makes use case refinement, the development of value chains, ecosystem development and business model innovations central elements of business development initiatives.

Summary and conclusion

ISAC is a new technology with the potential to expand the capabilities of networks and enable future business opportunities.

The commercial introduction for ISAC is planned as part of 6G. The technology and its capabilities will develop in steps, with basic capabilities explored together with 5G networks. The evolution of ISAC will be shaped by such factors as emerging technologies, spectrum used, levels of integration and the types of objects to locate.

Parallel business development efforts, crucial to aligning with the evolution of technology, will focus on use case refinement, ecosystem development and business model creation. This proactive approach is essential for the success of this novel technology. 

In 2021 Ericsson shared some initial thinking of ISAC based on results from leading academic and industrial researchers and our own investigations. The next phase will refine the problems to address with this new technology.ISAC represents a category of use cases with high potential. The US should accelerate efforts to develop the ecosystem in order to maintain global leadership for mobile networks and secure early adoption of the emerging use cases.

The Ericsson Blog

Like what you’re reading? Please sign up for email updates on your favorite topics.

Subscribe now

At the Ericsson Blog, we provide insight to make complex ideas on technology, innovation and business simple.