With an estimated 6 billion GNSS devices in use around the world in both mass-market and professional sectors, GNSS has become a ubiquitous technology. In fact every new smartphone today has the GNSS capability, meaning that nearly everyone has a GNSS receiver in the pocket. The number of GNSS devices is further forecasted to grow to around 8 billion in 2025.
Such steady growth has been also fuelled by new GNSS constellations, including Galileo, the global GNSS made in European Union declared operational in 2016. With its enhanced accuracy, greater availability and increased robustness, Galileo is contributing to new generation location services and its downstream market of added-value services. As the most cost-effective and performant source of positioning and timing information in outdoor environments, GNSS is an essential element of major contemporary technology developments notably including the IoT, Big Data, Augmented Reality, Smart Cities, Autonomous Driving and Multimodal Logistics. For example, over 90% of all context-aware smartphone apps now rely on GNSS.
The European GNSS Programme benefits of a range of supporting actions to allow Europeans to fully seize the benefits offered by Galileo. Among the many actions aimed at stimulating the global Galileo market uptake, some of them target application areas that present commonalities and synergies with the DG CONNECT policies areas.
In the IoT domain, for example, position, navigation and time capabilities constitute relevant features for IoT devices as they need to communicate their location to a central node where it is further managed and analysed by a user or scheduler. Despite the development of several dedicated low power networks for IoT positioning and the upcoming 5G positioning capabilities, GNSS remains the key source of location information outdoor, offering unmatched level of accuracy and availability. It is particularly important in applications for tracking movable assets and people. The enhanced accuracy and robustness of Galileo enable innovative use cases and support the creation of new businesses in IoT domains. Already today Galileo is used in premium IoT devices for tracking and monitoring of assets and people, including wearables. In the world of connected devices, the issue of privacy and security is becoming more and more important. The outstanding authentication feature of Galileo helps to address these challenges.
Within robotics & artificial intelligence, GNSS enables safe and reliable navigation and tracking of autonomous robots in a wide range of applications including autonomous cars, drones, delivery of goods and monitoring. GNSS is also used to create virtual geofences and to limit the area of operations of automated systems. With the advent of fully autonomous cars where the systems will have to sense the environment and react to it in real time, the need of accurate real time location will increase. Similarly in advanced augmented reality applications, the accurate positioning will be needed to more precisely overlay the virtual layer over the reality. To address these future challenges the industry is leveraging the enhanced location services entering the market, in particular the ones from Galileo that are using the next generation dual frequency signals.
In the context of E-Health, satellite navigation combined with information technology can play a significant role. GNSS technology is indeed the backbone of many solutions easing the lives of patients. As example, visually impaired persons can autonomously walk by leveraging navigation solutions based on GNSS or persons affected by dementia can be remotely monitored and tracked down in case of need. The enhanced accuracy provided by Galileo ensures the smooth functioning of these and other E-Health solutions requiring location information.
Moreover, GNSS technology contributes to saving lives thanks to its use in calling the emergency number 112 (e112). Currently, the practice of establishing location in emergency communication from mobile phones is based on cell ID positioning, for which accuracy can vary from several metres to up to 30 kilometres. Field tests conducted across four EU Member States as part of an EU funded pilot project have shown a real difference in accuracy between cell ID and GNSS: cell ID returned an average radius of between 1.5 and 5 kilometres; GNSS returned an accuracy of between 6 and 28 metres, proving that the use of GNSS technology permits faster and more effective rescue efforts. At present, the Commission is working on a mandate to enable smartphones to support the transfer of GNSS caller location in case of 112 emergency calls.
Within cyber security, the need of protecting internet-connected systems from cyberattacks has become more and more relevant given the increasing diffusion of networked devices. The technical features of Galileo signal mitigates GNSS vulnerabilities and ensure the continuous functioning of vital critical infrastructures such as power grids and telecom networks. Additionally, the Galileo authentication feature can support the provision of digital rights management according to the location of users thus enabling geo-blocking patterns.
All together, EU GNSS programmes contribute to fostering a competitive EU electronic industry while strengthening its global role in the space sector. Through a range of actions, including dedicated R&D funds managed by the European Commission and the European GNSS Agency, GNSS industry benefit of the right ecosystem for start-ups to grow, promote Europe’s leadership in space and increase its global shares. European companies - including few large companies and a plethora of innovative SMEs and start-ups - accounted for 25% of the global GNSS market in 2015, with strong positions in road, agriculture and maritime domains.