Saturday, February 21, 2009

We’re On a Road to Nowhere

In an effort to be singularly bilateral and neither sovereign or multilateral, the European directors of the Galileo geo-location satellite array made a quick and dirty deal with the Chinese government to offset a small percentage of their cost. Low and behold, they have been double crossed.

To appreciate what turns out to be a huge irony, we have to go back to 2001 when the Galileo system was in its early stages of going nowhere, and the US started raising the alarm about possible interference with the established US GPS system.

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Meanwhile, also to the consternation of the Americans, the euroweenies were doing a separate deal with the Chinese, bringing them on board as "development partners" for Galileo, with the very real risk that they would exploit the technology for military purposes.
The odds are out there that if they have a data protocol and an overlapping frequency problem, there will be times in the day that the “smart” Galileo system will be catatonic, even in Europe when a Chinese or Russian geo-location satellite is passing overhead in low earth orbit.
In setting up their system, Chinese representatives have informally resolved with the US potential problems with co-ordination of frequencies. Recognising the status of GPS as a "legacy" system with a prior claim to its frequencies, China is prepared to respect the status quo and not interfere.

Not so with the euroweenies, however, where compatibility issues between Compass and Galileo most definitely have not been resolved. With China's schedule now edging ahead on the launch stakes, the inscrutable ones are taking the view that it has equal rights to pick its operating frequencies as do the Euros.

The result is that Compass could end up interfering with Galileo's high accuracy Public Regulated Service (PRS) signals. This is the part of the system which will be available on subscription and will also be used for military purposes - not that it's a military system, of course. But, with the Chinese system up and running, PRS will be pretty much useless for military purposes unless China allows access to the frequencies.

Not content with this, the Chinese are also seeking to build into their system some "product differentiators" - enhanced capabilities and unique signals and/or services – which will give them a competitive advantage over Galileo and GPS. With their eyes on the lucrative Asian applications market, that will leave the poor old Euros decidedly in the cold.
That quick buck came at a high price, papito. The ambulance using “smart” technology to get to the side of the highway barrier that your wreck is on, or looking for the police officer in distress will be operating at cost to a Chinese state corporation, and at the pleasure of their often Machiavellian leadership.
The ultimate joke – if your sense of humour takes you that way – is highlighted by Dinerman. The Galileo system was originally intended by Jacques Chirac to prevent Europe from becoming the "technological vassal" of the Americans. With the frequency conflict, it has now produced a situation where the EU is going to be subservient to the Chinese.

- The hat tip goes to Pat “the persuader” Patterson who notes “Maybe they can use it to navigate to the beach”. Rock on, Pat.

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