Europe Set To Turn On Free Global Internet, But There’s A Catch


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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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The European Union’s replacement for the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) goes online Tuesday, but it may be 17 years and $24 billion too late.

The replacement system, dubbed Galileo, offers free navigation service worldwide for anyone with a smartphone or navigation box fitted with compatible chips. Many smartphones may only need a software update to use Galileo, which is expected to be fully operational in 2020.

Galileo has been plagued by delays and budget cuts and was almost cancelled several times. It will be reliant on GPS for quite some time.

Galileo began as a public-private partnership in 2006, but the EU outright nationalized it after the project fell behind schedule. However, the EU couldn’t pay for the system, leaving it “in deep crisis” for years and subject to $755 million in budget cuts. Galileo was only saved by an investment of $302 million from China.

The European Commission solved the project’s budget issues by slashing the number of satellites definitively planned from 28 to 22, and delayed Galileo’s scheduled activation date to 2013. The cost of Galileo to taxpayers had ballooned from a little less than $3 billion to $24 billion.

Soaring costs ultimately led to Galileo’s activation date being pushed back again to late 2016. Currently, the project only has 18 satellites in orbit, but needs 30 to become fully operational.

Galileo’s reason for being is to provide an alternative to the U.S. military-controlled GPS and rival the American platform. Presently, Galileo will need to have its signal strength artificially boosted by the GPS satellites it was supposed to be an alternative to.

The program’s supporters claim it will be more accurate than GPS, but this is uncertain. “GPS allows a train to know which area it is in — Galileo will allow it to identify the track it is on,” Jean-Yves Le Gall, head of the French space agency, told the Taipei Times.

Early test results indicate Galileo may actually be less accurate than GPS, as it is only capable of locating 77 percent of simulated distress locations pinpointed within 1.2 miles, and 95 percent within three miles.

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