Europe's Galileo satellite navigation network declared initial service availability last December. Full service is scheduled in 2020 after more satellites are launched. The next launch, scheduled for late this year, is of four satellites aboard an Ariane 5 rocket. The European Commission has released details of its proposed Galileo Commercial Services, which will charge a fee to users in return for higher-precision signals and an authentication of the signals' accuracy. Credit: European Commission Europe’s Galileo satellite navigation network declared initial service availability last December. Full service is scheduled in 2020 after more satellites are launched. The next launch, scheduled for late this year, is of four satellites aboard an Ariane 5 rocket. The European Commission has released details of its proposed Galileo Commercial Services, which will charge a fee to users in return for higher-precision signals and an authentication of the signals’ accuracy. Credit: European Commission

PARIS — The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) request for comments on whether to waive a license requirement for U.S. users of Europe’s Galileo navigation system has drawn unanimous support for the waiver.

Not unexpectedly, the comments filed by the FCC’s Feb. 21 deadline all said adding Galileo to GPS would be a service to consumers by increasing the number of satellites in a given patch of sky, especially in mountainous areas or urban canyons.

Interestingly, the only drawback to using Galileo alongside GPS in devices such as smartphones was cited by one of Galileo’s government owners, the European GNSS Agency, GSA.

A slight battery drain, a big service gain

Prague, Czech Republic-based GSA acknowledged that a device searching for both GPS and Galileo satellites would drain its battery more quickly than one that was limited to GPS.

But the loss is only about 1 percent of battery life, and the extra drain on power is only during the signal-acquisition phase. Once the Galileo and GPS satellites have been acquired, there is no more drain on battery power than there would be in a GPS-only environment, GSA said.

That relatively minor issue is overwhelmed by the added value to users of having more spacecraft available.

Optimal geo-location occurs when at least four satellites are visible to the navigation device, and especially if they are widely dispersed. With Galileo ultimately doubling the number of satellites available — it uses the same basic system architecture as GPS — users will spend less time getting a fix.

Broadcom: Dual GPS-Galileo chipsets are not much more costly

As for the cost or complexity of adding Galileo modules to the chipsets of smartphones and other navigation devices, “the improvement provided by the addition of Galileo is extremely inexpensive to the consumer,” chipmaker Broadcom Corp. told the FCC.

Galileo, owned by the European Commission, was declared ready for initial use in December. Full service is scheduled for 2020, by which time the full complement of satellites should be in orbit.

Galileo has an Open Service which, like GPS, is available to anyone without charge. But unlike GPS — and unlike the global positioning, navigation and timing constellations owned by the Russian and Chinese governments — Galileo is preparing a Commercial Service.

Galileo Commercial Service: Signal precision and authentication

Exactly what the service will cost remains unclear. On Feb. 8 the commission issued an “Implementing Decision” on the commercial service — http://bit.ly/2lFGew6 — intended to establish guidelines for its establishment.

The Commercial Service’s goal is to generate revenue from fees charged to users. The pricing policy has yet to be determined.

The two improvements to Galileo to be offered Commercial Service users are higher-precision positioning — less than 10 centimeters, especially when used in concert with GPS — and signal authentication.

“[T]he authentication capacity of the commercial service would on the one hand integrate the capacity to authenticate data linked to geolocation, which will be contained in the signals of the open service, offered free of charge, on the other hand, with a view to improved protection, also comprise unique identification of the signals thanks to the reading of encrypted codes also contained in the signals, access to which would be subject to a fee,” the commission says in its decision.

The decision asks that extensive risk analysis be performed on the Commercial Service — a surprising admission that such work has not yet been done — and that it be completed before a scheduled June 1 Delta Critical Design Review of the GNSS Service Centre is approved

The Commercial Service would include commercial encryption and would not use the EU Classified Information (EUCI) capability.

Commission: No conflict with U.S.-Europe agreement on GPS-Galileo

The commission said establishing the Commercial Service is fully compatible with the June 2004 agreement with the U.S. government on Galileo practices, an agreement that among other things sets limits on how the European Commission can use regulatory force to stimulate market uptake of Galileo.

Hexagon Positioning Intelligence of Houston, a manufacturer of navigation equipment, said Galileo’s Commercial Service could improve GPS as well.

“A GPS solution could be checked against an authenticated Galileo solution in order to improve integrity” and prevent spoofing, the company told the FCC.

In addition to the Commercial Service, Galileo includes an even more highly encrypted Public Regulated Service, for use by military and police forces. The U.S. Defense Department and the government of Norway — Norway is not a European Union member — have asked for access to PRS. European Union officials are still weighing both requests.

European Commission officials in late January said the FCC’s decision on a license waiver would have no direct effect on the Pentagon’s PRS request, but would naturally be part of the trans-Atlantic cooperative landscape in which PRS access would be considered.

Replies to the comments sent to the FCC are due by March 23, 2017

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Peter B. de Selding
Peter B. de Selding
Peter de Selding is a Co-Founder and editor for SpaceIntelReport.com. He started SpaceIntelReport in 2017 after 26 years as the Paris Bureau Chief for SpaceNews where he covered the commercial satellite, launch and the international space businesses. He is widely considered the preeminent reporter in the space industry and is a must read for space executives. Follow Peter @pbdes