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What is Galileo? An Introduction to Europe’s Answer to GPS

By Will Thornton On December 15, 2016
Positioning
Galileo, GNSS, GPS

With the Declaration of Galileo Initial Services being available (15th December 2016), Galileo officially moves from a testing phase to the provision of live services. For the first time ever, users around the world can be guided using the positioning, navigation and timing information provided by Galileo’s global satellite constellation.

This is excellent news for users, chipset and receiver manufacturers, application developers and anyone who wants to benefit from the improved accuracy, reliability, availability and coverage that Galileo satellites bring. Starting now, any mass-market device containing a Galileo-enabled chipset, such a smartphones and vehicle navigation devices, can use Galileo signals for positioning, navigation and timing.

Spirent has been at the forefront of Galileo, not only providing test capabilities to ESA as part of the design of the Galileo system, but also by offering the full complement of ICD-compliant Galileo signals on its range of GNSS Constellation Simulators, providing accurate and precise test solutions for all who are incorporating Galileo into their products.

Read on to find out more about Galileo.

What is Galileo? An Introduction to Europe's Answer to GPS

What is Galileo?

Galileo logo

The Galileo program is Europe’s initiative for a state of the art global navigation satellite system (GNSS), putting a highly accurate and guaranteed global positioning service under civilian control. The completed system will have both standalone capabilities and interoperability with other existing GNSSs (such as GPS and GLONASS) providing increased availability in restricted sky-view conditions. There are currently 12 satellites in orbit (at the time of writing) with plans to launch 2 more this month, 4 later in the year, and another 12 by 2020.

For users of GNSS-dependent products the upshot of this is that there will be an alternative high-accuracy system – with real-time integrity - dedicated to providing navigation and timing data. Whilst GPS alone has enabled the proliferation of commercial devices, it is a system controlled by the US military, and as such its strategic function (should the need arise – as it did in Iraq circa 2003) is to provide PNT data to US armed forces. Whilst Galileo has the capability to provide encrypted signals for military/authorised use via the public Regulated Service (PRS) signal, it is owned by the EC and therefore is not subject to the military interests of a single country.

What benefits does Galileo bring?

As well as the assurance of a guaranteed, constant civil service, there are more tangible benefits to Galileo. In 2020 it will reach its full complement of 30 satellites – more than any other existing GNSS. The benefit that this will bring is a greater degree of accuracy and integrity in both ideal conditions (where it will be noticeable for survey-grade users) and in signal-degraded areas. The greater number of signals, from the larger number of satellites, and as part of a larger GNSS “system of systems”, will mean that accurate positioning will be available even in high-rise cities.

In addition to this, Galileo offers several signal enhancements that will improve TTFF (Time to First Fix) and make the signal easier to track, as well as making it more resilient to interference and reflection.

Why should I test my Galileo-ready product?

In summary of the above Galileo offers an assured service of greater accuracy and reliability than existing systems. However, the quality of the signal received, and thus the service provided by the GNSS-dependent product, is dependent on the same factors as before. Four of the most important considerations are:

  1. Interference – Electromagnetic noise from other RF elements within a device (or externally) can interfere with GNSS signals
  2. Antenna placement – The size and location of the GNSS antenna can have a major impact on its ability to acquire and maintain a lock on satellite signals
  3. Shielding – The type of materials used in the device case and GNSS shield can significantly affect signal reception
  4. The software layer – Different software algorithms can interpret GNSS signal data in vastly different ways – especially when multi-GNSS and system interoperability effects come into play

Whilst these factors are focused on avoiding the potential downsides of GNSS usage, manufacturers should also be concentrating on utilizing the maximum potential of Galileo. Optimising a device to ensure the highest degree of accuracy – and ensuring this is retained when interoperated with other constellations – will enable product managers to guarantee a level and accuracy of service that was previously not possible.

With chipset manufacturers already integrating Galileo into receivers and the leading tech brands incorporating it into their testing and production facilities, Galileo is gathering speed. Acting sooner rather than later could help you to stay ahead of your competitors and avoid the costly processes of redesigning and retesting later.

Further information

For more information about Galileo – present and future – visit the ESA website.

And for full Rinex almanac data, please visit the European GNSS Service Centre.

Finally, if you'd like to speak with us about GNSS testing, please get in touch.

 
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