The European Commission is considering a requirement for mobile phones, and perhaps other portable devices such as tablets, to be equipped with Galileo receivers that would automatically send location data as part of any emergency call to 112.
E112 is a location-enhanced version of the 112 universal European emergency services number via telephone, equivalent to 911 in the United States, in which the telecoms operator receiving the call for help transmits location information to the emergency dispatch center, which has further connection to police, firefighters, medical, and other emergency services.
A European Union Directive on E112 requires all mobile phone networks to provide emergency services with available information on the location of the caller. Currently this data is the cell id, which is of limited use in localising a call as, for example, in rural areas where the mobile cell may have a radius of two to twenty kilometres — not very helpful for police or medical emergency crews in finding someone in distress.
Whether the Commission (EC) should mandate Galileo, or take a different option, is currently the subject of consultation. The EC convoked a public hearing in Brussels in May to chew over the pros and cons.
The Commission has a legal obligation to look at potential activities that can maximise the societal benefits of Europe’s huge investment in satellite navigation technologies such as Galileo and EGNOS. It is also tasked to assess how these technologies could reinforce Europe’s economic infrastructure. To me, the E112 mandate is a low-hanging fruit ready to be picked, and the majority of stakeholders who voiced an opinion at the hearing evinced great enthusiasm for the proposal.
Interestingly, the regulatory route to achieve a mandated use of Galileo for E112 would be via a delegated act; the relevant radio equipment and telecommunication directives are already effectively in place. This means that if the Commission decides to mandate, it can do so without the need for further regulation.
Mandating a specific GNSS system for a regional service of this type is not a new idea. Russia and China have both done so. As Richard Catmur of Spirent Communications put it: “We are not seeing Galileo being pushed like GLONASS and Beidou in the market. We need input from this forum.”
Justyna Redelkiewicz of the European GNSS Agency (GSA) outlined some technical reasons for mandating Galileo. Over and above (yet to be fully proved) improved accuracy, availability. and a faster time to first fix, the likely inclusion of signal authentification in the Galileo open service would reduce any impact of spoofing — a very useful characteristic in what is essentially a safety-critical system.
Johannes Vallesverd, who chairs the group within the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations, Electronic Communications Committee tasked with delivering harmonisation of the 112 number across Europe, was also very positive: “We need to talk about how we could be saving lives Europe.” He advocated a proactive and rapid decision.
This was reinforced by Gary Machado, CEO of the European Emergency Number Association (EENA). He estimated the annual economic cost of the delays induced by inaccurate location data at more than €4 billion across Europe. In contrast, the cost of implementing a system to relay GNSS location from equipped smart phones was of the order of €250 million. Economically, it is a no-brainer.
Bruno Gagnou from Thales Alenia also thought that GNSS — and specifically Galileo — gives the right answer for E112 positioning. “The technology is reliable and accurate,” he said, “with obvious benefits for society. Lives will be saved, the security of citizens enhanced due to quicker intervention, and European industry will be supported.” He noted that this was also the experience in the United States when the enhanced 911 regulation was introduced.
Gagnou thought that Galileo should be mandated in order to ensure a harmonised approach across Europe and avoid an anarchic, non-compliant deployment of technologies for E112. “EU emergency services should rely on EU technology,” he concluded. “EU citizens deserve the best E112 emergency service.” Galileo should be favoured, all mobile devices should be addressed, but this will require mandating. It seems to me that the Commission will agree with him.
Quantum Navigation: Ultra-Cold Alternative to GNSS?
Some potential future tech! The Quantum Timing, Navigation and Sensing Showcase at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in mid-May highlighted the possible use of quantum technology for highly accurate timekeeping and advanced, GNSS-independent, navigation. This so-called second quantum revolution’\ could make a big impact on the field of Timing, Navigation and Sensing (TNS) through technology based on ultra-cold, laser-cooled atoms.
The meeting was organised by the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL). It presented a number of research projects including a table-top quantum accelerometer designed to provide ultra-precise, highly reliable positional data for submerged submarines.
As we know, GNSS does not work well underwater, so submarines navigate using accelerometers to register every twist and turn of the submerged vessel relative to its last surface GNSS fix.
“Today, if a submarine goes a day without a GPS fix, we’ll have a navigation drift of the order of a kilometre when it surfaces,” said Neil Stansfield of DSTL. “A quantum accelerometer will reduce that to just one metre.”
Once chilled to an ultra-cold state, the rubidium atoms in the accelerometer achieve a quantum state that is easily perturbed by an outside force. Another laser can then be used to track these perturbations and calculate the size of the outside force, and therefore the relative position.
At present, such devices are only found in the laboratory, but research is pushing past classical physical limits towards optimal performance, as scientists investigate miniaturisation and the potential use of new materials to reduce costs and increase the practicality of the devices. Following land trials in late 2015, it is anticipated that a sea-going version will be demonstrated in a British sub during 2016.
”The defence industry often acts as a pioneer in the development of new technologies. The potential benefits of a future in which we can navigate by inner space rather than outer space will impact both the military and civilian world,” commented Neil Stansfield.
Bob Cockshott from NPL said: “Whilst the most immediate applications are in the defence field, future quantum navigation technologies could also have significant civilian applications across a wide variety of activities, covering high frequency trading, network synchronisation, robust and ubiquitous navigation, geo-surveying, and mineral prospecting. With the first applications potentially ready for market in five years, now is the critical moment time to consider the opportunities provided by quantum.”
Cockshott points out that chip-scale atomic clocks using similar principles are here now from Microsemi in the United States — indeed, they have been integrated with GPS in some U.S. military applications — and can provide low-power, low-cost hold-over for timing applications. He expects to see European designs on the market within five years and a steady improvement in capability thereafter.
“Cold atom accelerometers may also appear in high-value (probably military) applications within five years. These could form the basis of a quantum compass,” he predicts .
GPS-like progression. He envisages something like the progression seen in GPS receivers from expensive military equipment to high-value professional users and then mass-market. DSTL and the UK’s Technology Strategy Board are working hard to get industrial suppliers of support equipment and of quantum devices working as quickly as possible to get these technologies to market, and consumer devices are certainly the ultimate aim.
“I would see these technologies as complements to GNSS, at least in the short and medium term, providing hold-over in poor GNSS environments (such as urban canyons etc) and capability where GNSS will never work — in tunnels, for example,” comments Cockshott.
Of course companies like Google would like to guide city dwellers through urban underground metro systems, switching seamlessly to GNSS when they step out into the open air. “The quantum compass will not of course provide position fixes, only information about positional changes from a known starting point,” he points out.
However, in the long term, such gravity sensors combined with detailed maps of the Earth’s gravitational field may be able to provide GNSS-free positioning and navigation. Militaries are interested in this option because there is no known physics that could jam or spoof such sensors. “But it’s hard to see them matching the precision available from GNSS,” he concludes.
Galileo First Fixers
The European Space Agency (ESA) handed out certificates to the first 50 global citizens to determine their position using only the Galileo system. They got responses from around the world.
While half the applications for certificates came from Galileo’s home continent, Europe, others first-fixers came from Australia to Canada, Egypt to Vietnam.
The first positioning fix using only Europe’s civil-owned navigation system took place at ESA’s Navigation Laboratory in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, on March 12,2013.
The Galileo team knew of fixes being performed on an informal basis, so to mark the anniversary of the first positioning fix they decided to issue commemorative certificates to groups who had picked up the signals to perform their own fixes. Teams were asked to include details of the receiver they used, the start and finish of the fixes in Universal Time Coordinated (UTC), and a plot of their latitude/longitude positioning overlaid on a map.
Italy turned out to be the single best represented country in Europe, with six separate fixes, followed closely by Germany and the UK with five each. Several groups had achieved fixes on the same day as ESA in 2013.
Most of the employed receivers were software-based radio systems, with signal processing performed by software on a computer linked to a radio-frequency front end. Professional receivers were also customised for the job.
“Most of the applications were obtained with static receivers and simple position fixes with Galileo’s Open Service signals,” explains Galileo engineer Gaetano Galluzzo.
Belgium’s Royal Military Academy performed Galileo’s first position fix at sea, aboard Belgian frigate Leopold-I, while sailing along the Norwegian coast.
A German telecom company made use of the satellite signals for timing and network synchronisation – one of the most important applications of Galileo will be as a nanosecond-scale time source, enabling the effective synching of financial, power and data networks around the globe.
Talking of fixes – has anyone heard anything from Galileo GSAT0104 recently? According to the European GNSS Service Centre, the fourth IOV satellite is “unavailable until further notice.” The setting of unavailability may be due to in-orbit validation testing, as the website implies may be the case, but no further official statement has appeared, nor active user notifications (NAGUs) at http://www.gsc-europa.eu/system-status/user-notifications.
There have been a number of NAGUs over the past couple of months concerning outages and, at different times, one or more of the Galileo satellites have been off line while this extended period of testing takes place.
A bientôt, as they say in these parts.