Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens


In today’s Guardian: Galileo to be publicly-funded – but why compete with GPS?

Today’s Guardian Technology section wonders “Will Galileo ever achieve orbit?” That being the project to create a GPS-alike system, but funded from Europe rather than the US.

The costs involved are large –

a 2001 report commissioned by the EU estimated that developing and deploying Galileo would cost €3.4bn (£2.3bn). Philip Davies, senior account manager at Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (sstl.co.uk), says he’s seen estimated running costs in the range of €8bn to €10bn over 20 years. These numbers will be part of what is scrutinised between now and September, the deadline the Transport Council has given the European Commission to come up with alternative proposals for funding and managing the system.

GPS-style systems have the benefit that they’re government-generated data which is made for free: that creates private-sector opportunities. Very large ones:

The business plan published by the Galileo Joint Undertaking at the outset of all this estimated that the market for satellite navigation applications would grow from €30bn in 2004 to €276bn by 2020. This estimate was conservative compared to some of those in the report the EU commissioned in 2001 from PricewaterhouseCooper, which projected a market of €276bn by 2015 for personal communications and location services.

Clearly there’s a strong multiplier at work in GPS – comparatively small government input produces big private-sector revenues (and hence taxes, which pays for GPS – in theory – and all sorts of other benefits, as well as reducing congestion and making people easier to locate if they’re in danger, and stopping planes colliding; putting a value on the “not happening” bad things is hard, but must be counted as part of the benefit of satellite location.)

Galileo remains something of a me-too, but it’ll be interesting to see whether the EU decides to focus on its public and private-sector benefits as a justification for the spending – or whether instead it just kills it. Somehow, it doesn’t look likely to kill it.

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