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FCC Seeks Comments on Allowing Galileo Use in U.S.

January 17, 2017
Inside GNSS, January/February 2017

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After a yearslong wait the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is asking for comments on whether it should allow signals from Europe's Galileo satellite navigation system to be used for non-federal applications in the United States. The call for public feedback is part of a process to grant a waiver so that Galileo-capable receivers don't have to be licensed in the United States.

The licensing mandate, which has its roots in the World Trade Organization (WTO) Telecom Agreement of the late 1990s, only came to public attention roughly two years ago. This is despite the fact that the Galileo constellation has been broadcasting since 2011 and its signals already have been integrated into most, if not all, commercial GNSS receivers. The waiver, however, would make it possible to incorporate Galileo into government official uses like Enhanced 911.

In 2015 the FCC determined that a plan proposed by the major wireless carriers to tap Galileo to improve the locatability of distressed cellphone callers could not be used to meet the FCC's emerging E911 requirements because the Galileo system was unauthorized — that is the licensing/waiver requirement had to be met. Given the upward trends in cellphone adoption and the difficulty of locating callers horizontally, that is in apartment buildings, the decision was arguably significant for public safety.

Comments Please
In the FCC's request, which can be found in docket 17-16, the agency asks for feedback on whether it should "permit non-Federal receive-only earth stations within the United States" — that is GNSS receivers — to use the Galileo E1, E5 and E6 signals. These signals are transmitted on the bands 1559-1591 MHz (E1); 1164-1219 MHz (E5); and 1260-1300 MHz (E6).

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which manages government's use of frequencies, submitted the request to the FCC in January 2015. NTIA assessed the request from the federal users' perspective after the European Commission submitted it to the State Department in 2012. In its letter, NTIA noted that U.S. policy embraces the prospect of foreign constellations being used to augment and strengthen the resiliency of GPS signals.

In its request for comments the FCC noted the extensive coordination of the U.S. and European systems and that both sets of satellites use the same band of internationally coordinated frequencies. The agency stressed that it agrees with the NTIA, which did not find any interference issues. The FCC wants confirmation that that is the case, however, and to give the public an opportunity to comment.

Ligado
Telecom regulators are asking for information ranging from possible issues with Galileo's signal structure to details about satnav receivers. The request for receiver information may reflect the issue that has most likely been holding up the waiver — how approving Galileo would impact the use of bands near the satellite navigation frequencies.

The FCC has been searching for ways to allocate more spectrum for wireless broadband and has been weighing a proposal from the firm Ligado to recast frequencies near those used by GPS and Galileo to support a plan for a terrestrially-focused broadband network. That company, initially named LightSquared, incorporates ancillary terrestrial components or ATCs — ground stations that potentially would put out signals of much higher power than the mobile satellite signals for which the band was originally allocated. After then-LightSquared filed for approval in 2010, tests showed that its signals would overpower the vast majority of GPS receivers. The plan has since been modified but significant concerns remain.

The FCC wants to know how GPS and dual constellation receivers "are currently designed to receive the Galileo signals and/or GPS signals and the receivers’ electromagnetic compatibility with other uses of spectrum in the RNSS bands or adjacent or nearby bands." Among other things it's asking if designing receivers for constellations other than GPS and Galileo might make those devices "more susceptible to receiving potential interference from non-Federal transmitters that operate below 1559 MHz and/or above 1610 MHz which could affect the electromagnetic compatibility of these GNSS and non-Federal operations."

Ligado, which is mentioned in the request for comments, has asserted in at least one previous filing that organizations seeking to license their receivers must agree to accommodate their neighbors. The issue brings up questions about protection of the Galileo, which uses frequencies in the band for satellite navigation but closer to the frequencies Ligado wants to use.

Comments must be submitted to International Bureau (IB) Docket 16-17 by February 21 with reply comments due March 23.

DoD Weighs In
The NTIA has the authority to grant waivers/authorizations for federal users, so the Department of Defense and other national government users have not been kept in limbo. In fact, the DoD recently told lawmakers it is quite interested in the Galileo signal.

Less than a week after the FCC published its request the DoD sent Congress a report lawmakers had requested as part of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Galileo will offer "a worldwide, accurate, and timely" positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) service when it is fully operational in roughly three years, the agency wrote. Its signals are compatible with GPS, "simplifying the technical changes needed for receivers to benefit from the use of both GPS and Galileo," and Galileo's Public Regulated Service (PRS) signal would provide a second, space-based source of secure PNT information for critical United States civil, private sector and potentially national security users.

"GPS has become inextricably interwoven into the conduct of global commerce and military operations; however, as multiple DoD and civil PNT studies have concluded, GPS's very utility and importance underscores the need to ensure that there is resilience for GPS," the Pentagon told lawmakers. "...DoD users can obtain additional resiliency and accuracy by using signals from both Galileo and GPS satellites." The benefits of such resiliency extend to the private sector, which holds most of the nation's critical infrastructure and relies heavily on PNT, the authors pointed out.

According to the report, the additional satellites would help users in limited-sky situations. Moreover adversaries would find it more difficult to deny both GPS and Galileo, "particularly given that Galileo is a multinational capability."

DoD also would benefit from the creation of a U.S. commercial multi-GNSS industrial base that DoD could draw upon. Military officials pointed out that if they wanted to buy American manufactured, dual-capable GPS and Galileo commercial receivers, it was "highly likely" they only would be available if the FCC approved the European request for a waiver. Moreover, they said, the U.S. receiver industry would have more opportunities to build and sell dual-capable GPS and Galileo receivers around the world, thereby allowing them to compete more effectively with EU commercial providers.

Finally, approval of Galileo use in the United States "would help advance the U.S. Government-EC negotiations for U.S. access to the Galileo PRS encrypted signal for civil and national security-related activities," said the DoD.

"In my view," said Scott Pace, the director of the Space Policy Institute at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, "the DoD report to Congress reiterates the position of the Administration when it sent the waiver request to the FCC in the first place. It is in the public interest to grant the waiver and allow Galileo signals to be received and used in the United States. That said, considering language in the NDAA — raising questions about use of foreign systems like GLONASS — it's not unreasonable for Congress to ask for the DoD's viewpoint. DOD's support for granting the waiver recognizes the resiliency value of having access to multiple GNSS sources, particularly one provided by NATO allies, and the waiver helps strengthen the U.S. industrial bases on which DoD relies."

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