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Fri, Mar 16, 2007

Europe's Planned Galileo GPS-Rival Runs Into Snags

Talks Between Gov't, Contractors Break Down

The planned launch of a European satellite navigation system, designed to compete with the US global positioning system (GPS), has ground to a halt due to a breakdown in talks between the government, and the private contractors tasked with implementing the system.

The Financial Times reports European Union transport commissioner Jacques Barrot planned to write to the eight companies developing Galileo to determine why the program has been delayed for over a year -- although Barrot apparently has some idea already.

"They are just not working," said his spokesman.

Allegations have surfaced Spain is responsible for blocking progress on the system, until that country is guaranteed more jobs -- a situation that led one critic to dub Galileo "Airbus in space." For its part, Spain maintains it is simply holding all parties to a 2005 work-division agreement.

EU governments have expressed fear the delay in implementing Galileo gives China time to develop its own GPS-style navigation system. There are also concerns Galileo has fallen victim to the wide availability of the American GPS signal -- which offers signal access from systems such as in-car (and in-cockpit) navigation hardware free-of-charge.

"There is a doubt over the revenues," said an unnamed diplomat. "Why sell Pepsi-cola when you can get Coca-Cola free?"

For many in the EU, however, Galileo is a matter of pride... although some doubt how far the government will be able to push that argument in swaying contractors.

"We will give the companies an ultimatum," said one French diplomat. "But what will happen if that does not work?"

The most optimistic forecasts call for the EU's 30-satellite navigation system to be operational by 2011. China recently stated its Beidou system will be online by 2008 for that country and its neighbors, with worldwide coverage following soon thereafter.

FMI: www.eu.int

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