Wary of Protectionist Backlash Abroad, Europe Divided over Making Galileo Mandatory at Home

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PRAGUE — European government officials remain uncertain how far to go in mandating the use of Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation service in the 28 European Union nations without provoking a cascade of protectionist measures in Russia, India, China and perhaps even the United States, government officials said.

European industry officials are also divided on the subject. Getting favored access to the large European market would be an advantage, but if it causes other regions to put up barriers then their global addressable market shrinks.

Addressing the European Space Solutions conference here June 11-13 organized by the European Commission, government and industry officials said the commission is most likely to try to mandate the use of satellite-based positioning, navigation and timing services without specifying Galileo ahead of the U.S. GPS, Russia’s Glonass or China’s Beidou global systems.

“The commission has been in a bind in the past,” said one industry official whose company sells navigation hardware. “If they legislated the use of GNSS [global navigation satellite systems], they would basically be promoting GPS, or maybe GPS and Glonass. They had to wait for Galileo to near service availability before moving.”

The Galileo constellation is designed to feature 30 satellites in orbit. Four have been launched, with at least two, and perhaps four, more expected to launch this year. Early services with a constellation of eight satellites could then start in 2015, with the full constellation to be in place by 2018.

Galileo is fully funded through 2020 in the commission’s seven-year budget although there remains a question of whether the one-year delay in deployment has not driven up costs that will have to be paid, and by whom.

What worries some in Europe is that GPS remains the world standard for global navigation satellite systems, and Glonass is also fully in place and looking to expand its market beyond Russia. China’s Beidou constellation is still being put into place but is likely to be in full operation before Galileo. Galileo thus will be the fourth global navigation constellation to enter service, a fact that has made it difficult for its promoters to win investment commitments from industry and government.

Navigation device manufacturers and government users agree that future navigation chipsets will be designed to access at least two satellite systems, both to provide backup in case one system experiences outages and to increase the number of satellites visible to users at any given time.

Trimble Navigation of Sunnyvale, California, a major manufacturer of navigation devices, is already making its hardware compatible with multiple constellations and views the arrival of Galileo as good news for global GNSS customers. But Peter O. Large, Trimble vice president for channel development and a member of the company’s executive committee, cautioned European governments not to erect walls around the European Union in an attempt to protect Galileo’s home market for European industry.

A global navigation market in which each satellite constellation forces the use of its system on citizens within its territory would be “a very bad outcome,” Large said. “There is a risk of regionalization of global technologies. If you look at what took place in the U.S., the [GPS] interface control document was published, and there was no mandate to use it. It allowed people globally to innovate. The same thing can happen with the other systems. I think it would be a bad outcome if things move backward into regionalization.”

The Galileo system has several classes of service. A Public Regulated Service will provide encrypted, jam-resistant signals to military and certain government agencies and operators of critical infrastructure. The open signal, which will be compatible with GPS, will be available worldwide without charge, as is the case with GPS.

Galileo’s commercial service has yet to be clearly defined. It is intended to provider higher accuracy and perhaps even a guarantee of accuracy. But as navigation receivers increasingly are equipped with chipsets that can look at multiple constellations, it is uncertain what markets will be willing to pay for the commercial service.

“My advice is make Galileo freely available,” said Sias Mostert, managing director of Space Commercial Services Holdings Group of South Africa, a systems engineering company. “How do you compete with a free service?”

Philippe Blatt, vice president for navigation at satellite system builder Thales Alenia Space of France and Italy, said the commission should mandate the use of Galileo at least for a limited period for such services as eCall, the emergency notification service, to give Galileo device builders a foothold in the market.

“Governments in Europe should show a good example and use Galileo first, for their own purposes,” Blatt said. “For e112 [the future emergency service number, similar to 911 in the United States], mobile network operators should be forced to use Galileo. Once it’s launched, perhaps a few years later, it could be less restricted. But we need to start.”

The European Commission is weighing how to structure Galileo regulations.

“It’s an issue which very clearly is a hot topic,” said Matthias Petschke, director of EU Satellite Navigation Programs at the European Commission. “The commission will have to come up with a view.”