Europe Weighs Galileo-compatibility Mandate for Smartphones


PARIS — The European Commission, fearing that marketing its Galileo satellite navigation system will not be enough to ensure adoption of the service, is now weighing whether to mandate Galileo adoption not only in European critical infrastructures but also in selected areas including smartphones.

The Brussels-based commission, which is the executive arm of the 28-nation European Union, has scheduled a hearing for May 7 to hear arguments for and against a regulatory requirement that mobile devices carry Galileo chipsets for use during emergency calls.

The European Union is adopting a system called eCall, which when installed in automobiles automatically sends out a signal to emergency-service providers when a crash or other anomaly is detected. The European Parliament is preparing eCall regulations that are based on satellite positioning, navigation and timing signals.

What the commission is considering is to take that a step further by requiring that mobile phones, and perhaps other devices such as tablets as well, be equipped with Galileo receivers that would automatically send location information as part of an emergency call using Europe’s 112, equivalent to the U.S. 911.

The commission in mid-2013 asked for public comment on five options for stimulating the use of Galileo in Europe. One option was to discontinue regulatory involvement.

A second option was to adopt a “GNSS Applications Action Plan” for 2014-2018 that would promote global navigation satellite services but take no regulatory action. At the time, this was considered the baseline scenario.

A third option would apply a regulatory mandate that all European critical infrastructures be Galileo-compatible.

The fourth option, which the commission is now investigating further, would extend the regulatory requirement for Galileo compatibility to “selected regulated activities” including mobile communications devices.

The fifth option would require that any new communications receiver marketed in the European Union be Galileo-compatible.

Galileo currently features four in-orbit satellites. Twenty-two satellites are under construction, and four are scheduled for launch by the end of the year. Further deployments in 2015 are scheduled to permit the start of Galileo services that year, with the full range of positioning, navigation and timing services becoming available by around 2018.

The problem is that by the time it is fully deployed, Galileo likely will be the fourth global navigation system in operation after the U.S. GPS, Russia’s Glonass and China’s Beidou.

Galileo managers are concerned that the market for satellite navigation receivers will be dominated by these three systems and that Galileo will, in effect, be crowded out of the downstream value-added market.

Equipment manufacturers have said that while they recognize the need to embed at least two global navigation satellite system, or GNSS, receivers in their equipment to provide better coverage of urban canyons and to protect against a failure of one, they are reluctant to offer all four global systems.

That is why commission officials are looking at ways to make sure that in the European Union, Galileo is the preferred option for as many applications as possible.

The commission hired Roland Berger Strategy Consultants in 2013 to assess Galileo’s market. The resulting report advised the commission to “define a strategy to ensure the inclusion of the European GNSS by device OEMs,” or original equipment manufacturers.

The commission is not entirely free to do as it wishes in terms of setting mandates on Galileo use. An agreement between the European Union and the U.S. government on GPS and Galileo stipulates that two parties must consult each other before either enacts measures “that have the effect, directly or indirectly, of mandating the use of any civil satellite-based navigation and timing signals or services … within its respective territory.”