European GNSS at the heart of Europe’s industrial agenda

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28 February 2017
To support Europe’s competitiveness in the global GNSS market, the European Union’s space policy prioritises jobs and industrial growth, investments in the future and meeting key challenges.

In conjunction with EU Industry Day, the European GNSS Agency (GSA) is highlighting the many ways that Europe’s space programmes – Galileo, EGNOS and Copernicus – contribute to Europe achieving its economic goals.

Organised by DG Growth (Internal Market, Industry, SMEs and Entrepreneurship), the event brings together key industrial players, global trendsetters and high-level policy-makers to discuss and shape the future of Europe’s industrial agenda.

At the heart of this agenda is satellite navigation, and in particular global navigation satellite systems (GNSS). According to the GSA’s GNSS Market Report, the global GNSS market remains dynamic. As to its impact in Europe, consider that the number of GNSS devices sold in the EU will more than double within the next 10 years, increasing to 427 million devices by 2023. This is a development that will be mirrored in generated revenue, which is forecasted to increase from EUR 11 billion in 2013 to almost EUR 20 billion by 2023.

For the GNSS downstream industry, European companies accounted for 25.8 % of the global GNSS market in 2012. In components manufacturing, European companies remain strong in road, rail and aviation, and are global leaders for system integration in rail. They also have a strong position in products and application use in the maritime sector, along with the development of value-added applications where innovation is driven by SMEs and start-ups.

A growth-focused space policy

To support Europe’s competitiveness in this important market segment, the European Union’s space policy prioritises jobs and industrial growth, investments in the future and meeting key challenges – all of which are tightly interlinked with the development of GNSS through Galileo and EGNOS. “The importance of European space policy is well-known, not only for exploration and scientific benefits, but also for how it impacts the market and the European economy, and how new innovations spill over into other sectors to create jobs and opportunities for European citizens and companies,” says GSA Executive Director Carlo des Dorides.

With this understanding in mind, the policy takes an expansive view of the market, acknowledging that GNSS can:

  • improve the range, quality and competitiveness of products and services on the internal market
  • strengthen Europe’s industrial base
  • promote industrial innovation and generate new sources of growth
  • encourage the growth of SMEs and promote an entrepreneurial culture across the EU
  • support the internationalisation of EU businesses

A focus on innovation

That being said, des Dorides notes that if Europe wants to keep its place as a global leader in space, it must strive to make itself more competitive today. “We cannot rest on our past successes,” he says. “We must see innovation as the way forward.” This requires a fundamental shift in how European space policy is viewed. Instead of focusing on space technology and infrastructure, the focus needs to shift to building a competitive downstream market and using space policy to develop innovative applications and services that utilise Europe’s robust space infrastructure. “This is the key to strengthening the European space industry – and our ability to compete globally,” adds des Dorides.

Along this line, the GSA is actively involved in funding new programmes for research and innovation, including the current Horizon 2020 framework programme. Programmes such as these, which aim to ensure that space remains accessible to Europe and safe to operate in the long run, have already produced results. Take for example the GMCA project, which provides a basis for allowing Galileo to be relied upon to the same extent as GPS, especially by the aviation community. The project proposes that the existing GNSS Performance Monitoring System (GPMS) is enhanced to include European GNSS (EGNSS).

“GNSS is a utility that is fast becoming the key enabler for the aviation community, as it improves access and capacity while also reducing fuel consumption and the sector’s overall environmental impact,” says GMCA Project Coordinator Charles Thornberry. “It is thus critical that its performance and availability is both understood and monitored – and the GMCA project enhances the aviation community’s ability to do so.”

Another example is found in the ELAASTIC project, which developed an EU-based global service to provide and/or enable location for location-based services (LBS) and M2M applications. The service combines mature Assisted-GNSS and WiFi-based location techniques with new features that offer enhanced performance via the use of E-GNSS signal-specific features.

“The GNSS applications and services market continues to be one of the most exciting markets in terms of European growth and job creation, with such promising emerging markets as location-based services, M2M, Internet of Things, road, rail and multimodal logistics,” says ELAASTIC Project Coordinator Yves Capelle. “By leveraging multi-constellation capability and such key European GNSS differentiators as authentication, high-precision and robustness, European industry can create new added-value GNSS-based applications, services, businesses and jobs.” 

Staying competitive 

Although there is much to celebrate about Horizon 2020 and similar funding programmes, there is also room to improve. “One ongoing challenge I see is that these projects tend to take between three and four years to reach the market, while innovation happening around the world, namely in the United States, moves much faster,” says des Dorides. “What this means is that European-supported projects risk already being obsolete by the time they reach market.”

To mitigate this risk, des Dorides suggests tightening the timeline and, for example, creating centres of excellence. These centres, built on local competences in different EU Member States, could provide such benefits as multiplying the effect of EU research and development (R&D) funds, deepening the involvement of Member States, and leveraging the local excellence of SMEs and universities. Furthermore, EU investments could be rationalised, with the overall effect of having the efficiency of public spending improved and limiting the risk of national duplications.

Another solution, which already exists as a pilot programme within Horizon 2020, is adopting a Fast Track to Innovation (FTI) approach. The pilot programme supports innovative projects from the demonstration stage to market uptake, including such stages as piloting, test beds, systems validation in real-world conditions, validation of business models, pre-normative research and standard setting. It targets relatively mature new technologies, concepts, processes and business models that need support on the last developmental step before reaching the market and achieving wider deployment.

A third solution that des Dorides raises is the need for venture capital. “There are more and more mature innovative space solutions on the market that very often need further investment to reach a level of modernisation,” he says. “Here, venture capital can be an efficient funding instrument, as it tends to invest at later, and thus less risky, stages of development.”

Media note: This feature can be republished without charge provided the European GNSS Agency (GSA) is acknowledged as the source at the top or the bottom of the story. You must request permission before you use any of the photographs on the site. If you republish, we would be grateful if you could link back to the GSA website (

Updated: Dec 08, 2022