European Global Position System Failure Points to the Importance of Location Technology

Pitney Bowes



What is being called a “major outage” by the European Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) Agency, or GSA, highlights the critical importance played by the satellite systems that provide accurate positioning and time information to devices such as mobile phones, car navigation systems and other services such as land surveying. The GNSS, known as Galileo, is a constellation of 22 existing satellites (soon to be 30), owned by the European Union (EU) and operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), which will hand over operation to the GSA upon completion of the system. GNSS is expected to be the U.S. equivalent of the Global Positioning System (GPS), which is operated by the U.S. Air Force but available for civilian applications as well. Galileo is currently in pilot phase but intends to be fully operational in 2020.

However, failure to deliver accurate positioning has extensive ramifications for both civilian and military use. Availability of global positioning systems, such as GPS, Galileo, as well as those launched by Russia (GLONASS) and China (BeiDou), is taken for granted today as reliance on the delivery of latitude and longitude data provides the foundation for applications from emergency vehicle routing to mobile advertising. In addition, as more of the mobile infrastructure depends upon positioning and the speed at which data is processed, any missing foundational location data renders geoprocessing impossible. Planes don’t land and ships can’t navigate to port without highly accurate positioning data; likewise, while less important, it will be hard to find your closest McDonald’s to secure that mid-day burger craving.

But this goes beyond mere navigation. As sensors are deployed within everything from traffic signals to smart grid metering to telemedicine, there is an expectation that reliable location data accompanies each data point. Mapping and the associated location intelligence derived from each sensor input assumes that we can recognize proximity patterns that would be otherwise missed without the added information provided by accurate positioning. Imagine if these data points were unexpectedly not available. It would shake not only global infrastructure activity but global financial markets as well.

This has led ESA and the EU to consider Galileo as a redundant positioning solution to the U.S. GPS and also interoperable. According to ESA, “At system level, interoperability can be viewed as the capability of all systems to provide the same solution standalone (with the respective performance constraints). In other words, a GPS, GLONASS or Galileo receiver should be able to provide the same navigation solution – within the respective system accuracy – when used standalone. In this scope, GPS and Galileo can be said to be interoperable at system level[1], while bringing the advantage of being independently operated thus providing redundancy to the GNSS user community – hence increasing the market confidence on the technology.”

As GSA is seeking to expedite the recovery of Galileo, the situation is a reminder of the expectations of a reliable constellation of global positioning systems. Solutions that utilize the internet of things and reliance of the availability of new wireless networks such as 5G to transmit data will require accurate location-based information and the systems that deliver highly accurate positioning.

[1] GNSS Interoperability: Achieving a Global System of Systems or Does Everything Have to Be the Same?”, G. Hein, InsideGNSS, Jan/ Feb 2006.

About the Author

Joe Francica is currently Managing Director, Geospatial Industry Solutions for Pitney Bowes. He is recognized as one most influential people in geospatial technology and the leading proponent of location intelligence (LI) solutions for over 30 years, having founded the Location Intelligence Conference in 2004. Francica has published and broadcast over 500 articles and podcasts on LI and has contributed to three books: Profiting from a GIS (published in 1993 by GIS World Books; edited by G. Castle), Geographic Information Systems in Business (published in 2005 by Idea Group Publishing; edited by J. Pick), and the Encyclopedia of GIS (published by Springer).

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