MUNICH - If one satellite navigation system is good, can two be better?
That's the question suppliers and automakers are asking as preparations are being completed for the launch of the first of 30 satellites that in a sense will provide nearly the same navigation information as the US Global Positioning Satellite system.
The competing system, called Galileo, initially is being financed by the European Union and the European Space Agency. But a large portion of the cost to assemble and launch the satellites will be financed by a private consortium that has yet to be determined. The first satellite is expected to launch at the end of December. The goal is to have a fully operational system by the end of 2010.
For drivers today with in-car navigation receivers, the GPS system determines their location and can provide directions to a favorite restaurant or resort. Galileo supporters want the manufacturers of navigation systems to install both GPS and Galileo technology into future receivers so users can benefit from both systems. But the added cost to the manufacturer of a navigation system, automaker or car owner, for example, has yet-to-be determined. And the added benefit for drivers is debatable.
Electronics supplier Denso is optimistic about Galileo. Denso will start developing a car navigation system next year that incorporates GPS and Galileo technology. However, "we believe that costs will rise at first," said Denso spokesman Goro Kanemasu.
Automakers and other suppliers are not preparing for Galileo. The reason? GPS has been in place for several years and meets the needs of today's drivers.
"From our standpoint, we don't see it as necessary," said Michaela Müller, a BMW spokeswoman for research and innovations. "We don't see any real benefit in Galileo for our customers."
A second reason for their hesitation is simply whether the 30-satellite system will be fully operational by the targeted period, the end of the decade, as targeted. All of the funding has not been secured.
The reluctance by automakers to support the Galileo program is not an encouraging sign for Galileo's partners, the European Union and European Space Agency.
The two groups are investing E1.5 billion to develop and launch four satellites over the next two years in what is labeled an in-orbit validation phase.
The two partners are attempting to put together a private consortium to pay for about two-thirds of the cost of the second phase, which is estimated at about E2 billion.
The second phase will cover the cost of the assembly and launch of the remaining 26 satellites. This phase is expected to begin in 2008 and end in late 2010. The consortium will raise revenue by selling Galileo's satellite transmission data to companies that make navigation receivers and cell phones that incorporate navigation aids.
GPS not perfect
The Galileo navigation system, like the GPS system, sends signals from at least three satellites to a receiver in a ship or car. The receiver determines the location of a merchant ship at sea, a car on the autobahn or a hand-held unit used by a tourist, for example. The receiver determines such information as that unit's latitude, longitude, elevation, and the speed of the car or aircraft, for example. It also serves as a compass.
While the GPS system is a factory-installed feature in many vehicles, supporters of the Galileo system say GPS is not perfect. For example, GPS reception is poor or non-existent in some higher latitudes such as areas of northern Europe.
Additionally, because the 24-satellite GPS system is controlled by the US military and was developed for a military role, the system purposely does not provide an exact location to civilian users and can be off by as much as 20 meters, says a spokesman for the European Space Agency. Russia offers a similar system, also operated by the military. But neither the US nor the Russian military has guaranteed to maintain uninterrupted service.
By contrast, Galileo will be operated by civilians, and once operational will be accurate to within 4 meters, according to a spokesman for the European Space Agency.
Of course, such exactness is a greater issue for a ship in a treacherous region off the Atlantic Coast than a car owner who simply wants directions to a restaurant outside Rome.
General Motors Europe is taking a cautious approach.
"There are no plans [to use the system] at the moment, but we will take a deep look, a deep dive into Galileo," said Uwe Deller, a GM Europe technology spokesman. An issue to be decided is whether there is any advantage for a driver to have a navigation system that connects to GPS and Galileo.
Audi has adopted a wait-and-see attitude. The automaker wants to see whether the 30-satellite Galileo system really gets off the ground, said Udo Rügheimer, an Audi technology spokesman.
"We will work together with our suppliers when it is clear that the system will be available," Rügheimer said. Audi uses navigation systems from a variety of electronics suppliers, including Robert Bosch, Harman/Becker and several Japanese suppliers.
The Galileo satellite navigation system is being developed by Galileo Industries, a joint venture created in 2000 by the European Commission and the European Space Agency.
"One of the major markets for the Galileo system is everything related to transport, and that also includes personal cars," said Alexander Mager, Galileo Industries vice president of business development and strategy.
Japan and Europe are the hottest markets for in-car navigation systems. Cost likely will be a factor in whether car buyers are willing to pay a yet-to-be determined premium price for a receiver that connects two systems, GPS and Galileo.
For example, BMW offers two different navigation systems.
Depending on vehicle model and navigation system features, the price ranges from E2,250 to E3,150. Hand-held devices with fewer features can be purchased for a few hundred euros at discount stores.
But electronics supplier Siemens VDO has no plans to offer a navigation system with a Galileo receiver, said Siemens spokeswoman Eva Appold.
"We won't do anything until there is demand for it from our customers," Appold said. "It's definitely too early."
Galileo Industries, based in Ottobrunn, Germany, just outside Munich, will not market the satellite system. Its job is to get the 30 satellites into orbit, test the system, secure the frequencies and get it operating fully by the end of 2010.
"We are the space guys," Mager said. "We are at the very beginning of the value chain. We develop the system and then someone else - a concession company - will market the system worldwide.
"They are the guys who have to earn revenues by selling the Galileo signals to the end users."
This commercial company, which still needs to be chosen by the European Commission, will likely be a joint venture between a variety of European communications companies, including Finmeccanica, Inmarsat, Hispasat and Alcatel.
"That's why clearly this concession company will have to do a lot of marketing effort to sell Galileo to the worldwide community," Mager said. "That's how they will generate their revenues."
Mager believes automakers and their electronics suppliers will ultimately develop navigation systems that can receive signals from both Galileo and GPS satellites.
Having two independent systems guarantees that one will be operating should the other experience a problem, he said.