Out in Front: Europa, Europa

April 1, 2014  - By
Image: GPS World

Not so long ago, we occasionally speculated on the order of GNSS preference for both manufacturers and end users. GPS first, of course. Only the most radical of future visions saw anything different. But after that? GLONASS, Galileo, BeiDou — or switch them around? A case could be made for almost any sequence, by virtue of active constellation size or geometry, code structure, interoperability, government funding, or national economies.

It was once felt that a maximum of two GNSS could be made to fit cost-beneficially on a chip destined for mass-market devices; professional OEM boards had, of course, far more leeway and budget. Then engineering ingenuity found space for three on a chip.

A wag noted during that timeframe that in GNSS as in the Olympics, one can win gold, silver, or bronze. There is no prize for fourth place.

Lately, however, it seems there may be room for all. Our feature article this month affirms that “the silicon manufacturer must continue the path towards the fully flexible multi-constellation mass-market receiver.”

Nevertheless, choices will be made in design and manufacturing: different choices by different manufacturers in different regions, on different products. I now think that market size and connectivity will be the strongest drivers for selection of GNSS in product design. Constellations, at least in their order of establishment, almost don’t matter. Government mandates to use the respective national (or regional) GNSS in official or officially linked applications will add to the weight of market size.

These government-mandated applications encompass air, rail, and maritime navigation and management, survey and construction, road tolling, and road-user charging, just to start with. With emergency calling, it’s not hard to envision such mandates extending to telecomm as well, the most plentiful in end-user devices.

In that light, consider the words of political scientist John McCormick from his book Why Europe Matters.

“The European Union has a population of more than half a billion. It is the wealthiest marketplace in the world, is the biggest trading power in the world, is the biggest source of (and magnet for) foreign direct investment, and has shown that it is possible to wield influence without relying on military power.”

Even should Galileo finish fourth in the race to establish a full constellation, smart money may put Galileo on every future GNSS chip, high precision or mass market.