Last week, the European Union's Galileo system commenced its initial phase of service. Galileo joins the pantheon of existing Global Navigation Systems (GNS), including USA's NAVSTAR GPS, Russia's GLONASS, China's BeiDou, and India's NAVIC.
When fully operational, it will offer the following two benefits for hikers:
- Improved accuracy (potentially ten times more accurate than GPS; down to one meter accuracy).
- Emergency beacon utilizing COSPAS-SARSAT (same international emergency monitoring system employed by PLBs).
Currently, very few Android phones are equipped with the necessary hardware. However, Android phones built in 2016 equipped with certain models of Qualcomm chips have the potential to use Galileo. A future firmware upgrade may unlock that potential. Naturally, one can expect future phone hardware to include support for Galileo. The EU has mandated its inclusion in all car-based satnav systems in 2018. The EU has indicated higher location accuracy will be available as part of a paid, premium service.
Not only will your phone be capable of pinpointing your position, in the event of an emergency it can transmit your location to COSPAS-SARSAT to initiate a rescue. A future enhancement will have the system respond with an acknowledgement of the receipt of your emergency request. It's unclear if this service will be free or fee-based.
As with many technological improvements, it's a double-edged sword. Having a direct channel to COSPAS-SARSAT built into all new phones, it's likely to save lives and reduce human suffering. On the flip side, it has the potential to be abused for "low-bar emergencies" or as a substitute for being prepared. Time will tell but it behooves rescue organizations to take note of this development for future capacity-planning.