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European Commission - Fact Sheet

Galileo Initial Services

Brussels, 14 December 2016

Frequently asked questions

What is Galileo?

Galileo is the European Union's Global Satellite Navigation System (GNSS). Also referred to as “the European GPS”, Galileo provides more accurate positioning and timing information for users equipped with Galileo enabled devices such as an in-car navigation systems and mobile phones.

Galileo will help to make road and rail transport systems safer, improve our response to emergency situations, provide better time synchronisation for critical infrastructures and offer fully encrypted services for public authorities.

Galileo is autonomous but also interoperable with existing satellite navigation systems like GPS. 

Will Galileo be fully operational from the beginning?

With sufficient satellites now in orbit, ground infrastructure operational and following extensive testing, Galileo is now ready to go live. This means that anyone with a Galileo enabled device will be able to use its signals for positioning, navigation and timing.

Galileo Initial Services will be based on highly accurate signals, though these will at first not be available all the time. That's why during the initial phase, the first Galileo signals will be used in combination with other satellite navigation systems such as GPS.

In the coming years, new satellites will be launched to enlarge the Galileo constellation, which will gradually improve Galileo availability worldwide. The constellation is expected to be completed by 2020 when Galileo will reach full operational capacity.

The exact accuracy of the Galileo Initial Services as well as its expected performance, and availability have been published on the website of the European GNSS Service Centre.

Are Galileo enabled devices already available on the market?

Yes, users can already benefit from Galileo. In September 2016, the Spanish mobile phone manufacturer BQ brought the first European-designed Galileo smartphone to market.

In addition, by 2018, Galileo will also be found in every new type-approved vehicle sold in Europe, enabling the eCall emergency response system.

And this market is expected to grow further. Already today, 17 leading chipset companies - representing more than the 95% of global supply, already produce Galileo compatible products, up from only 3 manufacturers in 2010. These include chipset manufacturers like Broadcom, Mediatek, STM, Intel, Qualcomm and uBlox. For example, the Qualcomm Snapdragon series is already building Galileo into their devices, meaning that the majority of new smartphones on the market will be Galileo-ready.STM, a leading European chipset manufacturer in the automotive sector, has announced Galileo-ready "Teseo" chips for vehicle telematics and navigation systems. The option of making Galileo available on such devices depends however on the manufacturers activating this option in their products.

A growing list of Galileo compatible devices and chipsets that are available today can be found at

Users can also contact the European GNSS Service Centre (GSC) for all things related to developing Galileo-capable products and services. 

What are Galileo Initial Services?

The launch of Galileo Initial Services means that the following services will now become available for public authorities, businesses and citizens. These will be free of charge and will remain so, even once the system becomes fully operational.

  • Support to emergency operations: With the Search and Rescue service, Galileo will improve Europe's ability to responds to emergency situations by improving the capacity to locate distress calls around the world. For example, today it can take hours to detect a person lost at sea or in the mountains. With the Search and Rescue Service (SAR), people placing a distress call from a Galileo-enabled beacon can now be found and rescued more quickly, since the detection time will be reduced to only 10 minutes. The Search and Rescue Service is Europe's contribution to an international emergency locating system called "Cospas-Sarsat".
  • More accurate navigation for citizens: The Galileo Open Service will offer a free mass-market service for positioning, navigation and timing that can be used by Galileo-enabled chipsets in smartphones or in car navigation systems. In particular, Galileo's accuracy will particularly benefit people using navigation devices in cities, where satellite signals can often be blocked by tall buildings.
  • Better time synchronisation for critical infrastructures: Galileo will, through its high precision clocks, enable more resilient time synchronisation of banking and financial transactions, telecommunications and energy distribution networks such as smart-grids. This will help them operate more efficiently.
  • Secure services for public authorities: Galileo will also support public authorities such as civil protection services, humanitarian aid services, customs officers and the police through the Public Regulated Service. It will offer a particularly robust and fully encrypted service for government users during national emergencies or crisis situations, such as terrorist attacks to ensure continuity of services.

Who manages Galileo Initial Services?

Galileo Initial Services are managed by the European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency (GSA). The GSA oversees how the Galileo infrastructure is used and ensures that Galileo services are delivered as planned and without interruptions.

The European GNSS Service Centre (GSC) also provides advice for all Galileo users. The GSC Helpdesk can be reached at

The overall Galileo programme is run by the European Commission. The Commission has however entrusted the responsibility for the deployment of the Galileo system and the technical operations to the European Space Agency (ESA).

Is Galileo a purely civilian programme?

Yes. All EU space programmes including Galileo are purely civilian programmes entirely under civilian control. Some of the services and data can be used for emergency services, police, crisis management, border management or peace-keeping operations. The use of the services is to be decided by individual Member States, including any potential military use.

When will Galileo become fully operational?

Currently, the Galileo constellation consists of 18 satellites in orbit, which means that its deployment is on track, on budget and on time. With 12 satellites launched in just the last two years, the full deployment has now picked up unprecedented pace. The full operational capacity foresees 30 satellites in orbit, from which 24 are needed to establish worldwide coverage of the Galileo signal.

Galileo is expected to reach full operational capacity by 2020. This will be made possible by launching new satellites into orbit, which will further improve the availability of the Galileo signal.

How does Galileo differ from GPS?

In addition to improving navigation services for its users, Galileo will also contribute to Europe's strategic autonomy when it comes to global positioning services. There are currently several global navigation systems being built or improved, such as Glonass in Russia, Beidou in China and the next generation of GPS in the US. Galileo will be interoperable with GPS and compatible with others.

As opposed to these systems, Galileo will be under European civilian control and the system will be entirely owned by the EU. It will be able to support EU and national authorities in various areas, from emergency services, police, crisis management, border management or peace-keeping operations.

In addition, Galileo will also strengthen the competitiveness of our industry. Many strategic sectors, such as aviation, transport, agriculture, environmental protection and many others depend on the capacity to determine precise locations. The information provided by Galileo could also inspire new technological developments with several potential spill-over effects in other sectors of the economy.

How will the Commission encourage Galileo signal uptake when there is such reliance on GPS?

As Galileo moves into its operational phase, it will begin to deliver tangible results.  

With additional satellites as well as due to its enhanced features, Galileo will significantly improve the precision of navigation as compared to the current GPS system. More satellites in orbit means more satellites are visible above the horizon so that more signals can be compared, giving a more precise location. Also Galileo receivers can distinguish between direct signals and reflections. This will particularly improve accuracy in cities, where a large part of the sky is obscured by buildings, which can compromise accurate positioning. In addition, Galileo will provide unprecedented timing accuracy, which is vital for the synchronisation of critical infrastructure such as telecommunication networks and electricity grids as well as for providing exact timing of financial transactions.

Thanks to Galileo, more accurate Search & Rescue service will become available to the international COSPAS SARSAT operations. These services depend on satellites detecting a signal from a distress beacon. The current satellites may take three or more hours before passing close enough to a beacon to detect it, and can only locate it to within 10 kilometres. The Galileo service picks up the signal within 10 minutes and narrows the range down to 5km, meaning that the area to be searched is just one quarter the size of the current area. This will help save lives at sea or in the mountains.

The Commission will also look at possible actions to introduce Galileo in mobile phones. This will build on the experience from a current project, which is already testing how Galileo signals can be used in emergencies by automatically providing the accurate location of the caller to public services.

Other sectoral measures will be taken to introduce Galileo into specific markets or areas for example in autonomous and connected cars, railways, aviation as well as in protecting critical infrastructures using time synchronisation.

In addition, a study will be launched to look into possible standardisation measures and putting in place a voluntary labelling and certification scheme for Galileo (and EGNOS).

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