You’ve probably heard of GPS. It’s a navigation system developed by the US military that has been the standard for years to help devices like phones and SatNavs to know where they are.
But you might not have heard of Galileo, which is a more accurate version created specifically for civilian purposes as part of a European Union project.
The good news is that, even if the name means nothing to you, if you have a new smartphone you’re probably using the network of Galileo satellites every day anyway.
Am I using Galileo?
Like other systems, Galileo is integrated at the chipset level. So, to benefit from its location services, your phone has to be manufactured with a Galileo-enabled chipset.
Nowadays, companies that account for 95% of the global supply of smartphone chipsets are in contact with the Galileo team. This means a vast majority of the new-generation of phones such as Apple’s iPhone X, Samsung’s S8, Huawei’s Mate 10 and Google’s Pixel 2 are all Galileo-enabled.
Below, a complete list of Galileo-enabled phones:
Apple: iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 10/X
BQ: Aquaris V Plus, Aquaris V, Aquaris X5 Plus, Aquaris X, Aquaris X Pro
Google: Pixel 2, Google Pixel 2 XL
Huawei: P10 plus, Mate 9 pro, P10, Mate 10 Pro, Mate 9
Mediatek: Meizu Pro 7 Plus, Meizu Pro 7
Motorola: Moto X4
Nokia: Nokia 8
Samsung: S8, S8+, Note 8
Sony: Xperia XZ Premium
Vernee: Apollo 2
If your phone is on this list, it means that your phone is using Galileo’s signals whenever you access an application that uses location services.
Whereas nowadays most recently-launched phones carry the Galileo chipset, the first phone to be compatible with the European navigation system was built by Spanish tech company BQ.
“It was important for us to have an European phone first and we have the cooperation with BQ to launch the first model ready even before the first Galileo satellite was launched. Later, we cooperated with many more brands and today the main players have already adopted Galileo”, tells Justyna Redelkiewicz, Head of Sector Location Based Services at the European GNSS Agency (GSA).
How accurate is Galileo?
Today, in areas surrounded by buildings, location services can determine your location between 100 to 50 meters in accuracy, although many combine different technologies to improve this..
“This is not enough because sometimes you want to see at what side of the road you are standing when you’re crossing, or in which lane you’re driving” explains Redelkiewicz.
With Galileo’s dual-frequency technology location can be pinpointed by less than one metre in accuracy in the best possible conditions, or by just a few meters if conditions are less ideal.
Dual-frequency is already available for professional use and will soon be available to consumers on mobile phones. As the name suggests, it means the device will have two sources from which to determine your location, greatly reducing the chance of error.
Cities are an issue for location services because buildings either block or reflect the signal being sent from satellites. This is why sometimes your location appears to be bouncing from place to place when you’re using a navigation app, for example.
The Galileo navigation system will eventually have double the amount of satellites than the GPS, meaning more signals will reach the device despite surrounding buildings. At the same time, it can distinguish reflected signals from direct ones, improving accuracy.
What are the major benefits and uses of having a more precise location service?
The obvious benefit from Galileo data being present on smartphones is easy and accurate navigation, getting around from place to place whether by foot, car, bicycle, boat, train or plane. But its precision opens the door for a number of other applications.
• Emergency services
Better location services means locating someone in an emergency with more rapidity and precision.
Nowadays, special devices allow hikers or climbers to send a distress signal when lost or in danger. This device is also available on ships and planes.
But the Galileo team also aims to further improve search and rescue.
“We’re working with search and rescue professionals, so that in the future, if someone is in distress they can send an alert with their location, asking to be rescued from their phone. It will bring a peace of mind for anyone who is looking for help,” explains Gian Calini, GSA’s Head of Market Development.
Geofencing virtually delimits a geographical area.
This is particularly useful when tracking a child or an elderly person suffering from illness.
So, if the child leaves the school area or if an elderly person leaves the residence carrying their phone, it can notify those looking after them.
Games that use location and augmented reality, such as the famous PokemonGo or the yet-to-be-released The Walking Dead: Our World, will be taken to a whole new level.
These games require location accuracy because the augmented reality needs to match the real environment.
Better location precision will allow for a better integration of the virtual environment with the user’s surroundings in real time.
Location-based advertising means businesses can offer coupons or discounts which are relevant to your geographical position.
It combines consumer preferences with positioning data to provide personalised offers.
So, if you’re driving next to a certain gas station, you can receive vouchers for a free coffee, for example.
Galileo offers a number of possibilities that go beyond the use of mobile phones and affect our global economy.
Justyna Redelkiewicz draws attention to the fact that “smartphones are only one access point” of Galileo and that many other devices also receive Galileo data. There’s “a whole world of different applications that go beyond smartphones”, she adds. You can find more about these here.
Eleven percent of the global GDP depends on location services, so Galileo has a major importance in the world’s economy. Gian Calini highlights that “If for whatever reason some of the other systems is switched off instead of losing money, Europe has it’s own system. So there are also strategic and economic reasons behind Galileo’s services.”