EU, US breakthrough makes navigation systems interoperable

Two continents, two navigation systems

The European Union and the U.S. Thursday announced a breakthrough in their efforts to make Galileo and GPS (Global Positioning System), their respective satellite navigation systems, interoperable.

GPS has had 30 satellites orbiting around Earth for many years, providing civilian services such as car navigation to people across the world. The system is in the process of being upgraded. Meanwhile, Galileo, is still being developed.

The two sides have agreed to adopt an improved design for their respective system signals. These signals will be implemented on the Galileo Open Service and the GPS IIIA, a new signal dedicated to civilian use. The existing GPS signal can be interrupted for military purposes.

The technical agreement follows three years of cooperation between the two sides. In June 2004 they set up a joint working group to overcome obstacles to interoperability of the two systems.

"We are pleased by the adoption of this key improvement to the common civil signal design," said U.S. State Department Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Reno Harnish in a joint statement with his European counterparts. "The U.S.-EU collaboration that produced this innovation and led to its joint adoption reflects the strong working relationships that we have developed on GPS and Galileo. This technical milestone represents the next step in our ongoing commitment to open standards and market-driven innovation that will benefit all users world wide."

"Today's announcement underscores Europe's commitment to interoperability between Galileo and GPS and to managing the Galileo program in an innovative partnership with the United States," said Matthias Ruete, European Commission director general, in the statement.

Acknowledging the difficulties Galileo has experienced this year, Ruete added, "This should facilitate the rapid acceptance of Galileo in global markets side by side with GPS."

While GPS has always been a U.S. government project, Galileo was intended to be a partnership between the public and private sectors. However, earlier this year the partnership collapsed when the private companies involved failed to form a joint venture to build the system.

The commission, as well as leaders from many of Europe's 27 national governments, insist that Galileo is a political priority and it should go ahead funded purely by E.U. public funds. A debate has begun about how to find the money for Galileo from other EU budgets, such as its broader budget for research and development.

Using a multiplexed binary offset carrier (MBOC) waveform achieved interoperability between GPS and Galileo signals. Future receivers using the MBOC signal should be able to track the GPS and/or Galileo signals with higher accuracy in challenging environments, such as city centers and remote mountainous areas.

"Future civilian users will enjoy the benefits of multiple GNSS [global navigation satellite system] constellations providing greater signal availability and coverage around the world. Incorporating MBOC into both GPS and Galileo will enhance commercial opportunities for the development of new GNSS products and services," the two sides said in their statement.

"Manufacturers and product designers will have the benefit of adequate lead time to ensure products developed will meet the needs of users around the world," they added.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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