Anyone who has researched the wireless location marketplace knows that it is an acronym-heavy, jargon-filled industry. I’m guessing that there are a decent number of people for whom Andrew Solutions’ announcement about a standalone SUPL (Secure User Plane Location) solution is a bit confusing. Let me explain it a little further.


There are two architectural models for enabling location services in GSM, UMTS, and LTE networks: control plane and user plane. The control plane is a distributed model requiring coordination among multiple nodes in the network that operate over the signaling channel. The signaling channel is a communication link between the mobile device and network elements that enables wireless services to transpire on another channel. In short, the control plane involves multiple pieces of equipment, functions and layers of the network.

The user plane, on the other hand, allows for a more centralized model that enables location services through direct communication between the mobile device and a network server. In a SUPL model, as long as the mobile device is SUPL-enabled, it can report a location to the location server to which it is tied. There is no dependence on the core or access networks to support location functions. This means SUPL is easier to deploy because there are fewer nodes involved in the location determination process. The user device uses common location services and protocols across multiple access types. Since location procedures happen using messaging solely on the data path, the underlying radio access technology (GSM, UMTS, or LTE) is abstracted out of the positioning procedures.

The benefits of SUPL location include easy integration into operator networks and immediate high-accuracy location capabilities with minimal investment in network infrastructure. The trade-off is that the location server does not have access to network-based measurements that may assist in the location determination process. Also, the operator has to manage end-device SUPL capability, compatibility, and authentication mechanisms. Handsets that are not SUPL equipped cannot be located using this architecture.

So Andrew’s new standalone SUPL platform  is not a replacement for control plane location, but it does give wireless operators an option for quickly deploying commercial location-based services.

About the Author

John Baker

John Baker is vice president and general manager, Network Solutions, for Andrew Solutions, a division of CommScope, Inc. In this role, Mr. Baker oversees a group that supplies location, test and measurement, spectrum management, and other RF site solutions to the wireless industry. Prior to joining Andrew Corporation in August 2004, Mr. Baker held senior positions with leading wireless companies including vice president of PCS/DCS Base Stations at Nokia and vice president of technology and chief technology officer at Pacific Bell Mobile Systems. Mr. Baker also contributed significantly in the development of the GSM standards. He graduated with an honors degree in electrical and electronic engineering from Loughborough University, Leicestershire, UK.

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