Galileo - a rival to GPS?

Tottered over to the Business Design Centre in Islington last week to attend the mobile entertainment and global messaging show.

The big concern amongst the cellcos at the moment is how to persuade us all to start using mobile Internet and other allied non-voice services, especially now that they've spent a small fortune on creating their shiny new 3G networks.

The European Union is also worrying about its Galileo project, which seeks to create a better - and civilian - version of GPS.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is operated by the US government and provides two levels of service: simplex - free, but with no guarantees, and duplex - paid-for with high levels of accuracy.

The US GPS system is, however, operated effectively by and for the US military. Galileo, however, will be civilian operated and have five levels of service, the lowest of which will be free.

The other levels will be commercial and offer higher levels of accuracy, security, strength or a combination of those qualities.

The second level service will be designed to offer vehicle location and management systems, whilst the third will be accurate enough to help land an aircraft or guide a ship into harbour.

The fourth level will support encryption and anti-jamming measures, and mainly aimed at government agencies such as the police, ambulance drivers, fire brigades and the armed forces.

The fourth level will be full duplex and designed for use by search and rescue services, giving users a distress messaging channel with an acknowledgement of message receipt.

All good stuff, except that these types of services already exist as an overlay to the existing GPS service.

In Europe, for example, we have the Egnos (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay System), whilst in the US there is the WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System). Similar systems exist in Japan, India and China.

Egnos can lock on to the GPS satellites in a few seconds and has a claimed accuracy of a few metres. It's also highly resilient against trees and high buildings, thanks to its use of cellular networks for location assistance.

And Galileo?

400 million euro over budget already and still a few years off being commercially available. Your tax dollars at work folks...