After 17 years of preparation and around 10 billion euros (around 270 billion crowns) of investment, Europe’s satellite navigation system Galileo should be launched on Thursday, and the roll-out will be followed closely in Prague where one of the key agencies involved, Europe’s Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GSA) has been based for the last four years.
Users of a range of satellite phones and processors should from Thursday be able to take advantage of hitherto dormant applications allowing them to use the Galileo system. Galileo can go operational with 18 out of the eventual 30 satellites already in orbit. The full satellite system should be in place by 2020.
The big advantage of the new European system is greater accuracy compared with its main US and Russian rivals, GPS and GLONASS. That’s hardly surprising since those services have been around since 1995 and the European service has more satellites circling the globe and a lot more data processing power at its disposal.
But as well as the Europeans, China is also looking to join this particular space and positioning race as well. Its Compass system, previously called BeiDou, is already operating on a limited scale but is expected to be offered to global customers from 2020. China was originally expected to be a major participant in the European Galileo system.
While Galileo’s creation was grounded in a lot of strategic issues revolving around independence from US and Russian systems, there is a commercial argument as well.
Navigation and positioning systems are already being used across transport modes. But their future role could be even more crucial, for example if driverless cars eventually take to the road requiring accuracy down to the last centimetre.
The global positioning market is growing fairly fast, there are around 4 billion users now with that expected to grow to 7 billion by 2019. The US and Europe are at the moment the biggest markets but that should change fairly rapidly. Whereas the European market is growing at an annual rate of around 8 percent, growth in the Asia-Pacific region stands at 11 percent.
And Asia is where a lot of the global positioning action and applications use will be in the long term with the market set to overtake the combined size of the US and European markets by 2023.
Prague-based GSA will be taking over responsibility for all Galileo operations and provisions of services from 2017.