Your GPS is about to become way more accurate

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Apple Maps, Waze, etc. will know just where you are thanks to Europe’s Galileo satellite system.
Apple Maps, Waze, etc. will know just where you are thanks to Europe’s Galileo satellite system.
Photo: European GNSS Agency

Phones and other devices located in the U.S. are now permitted to access signals coming from the European equivalent of the GPS system, named for the astronomer Galileo. This should make them significantly more accurate.

Recent iPhones have the hardware necessary to receive these signals, so it’s just up to Apple to add this feature.

The GPS system was created and is operated by the U.S. military. There’s also GLONASS, a Russian equivalent. iPhones use both of these but the result is accuracy to perhaps 15 feet. 

That’s why your navigation software sometimes won’t notice if you take a highway exit. Or the icon for your car might jump around when you’re stopped at an intersection.

Galileo saves the day

Europe’s satellite positioning system is called Galileo, and it’s still in the process of being put into orbit. The array is almost 90 percent complete, and is already somewhat usable, albeit with weak signals. Full functionality is scheduled for 2019.

After approving the use of Galileo in the U.S., a statement from the FCC reads “With today’s action, consumers and industry in the United States will now be permitted to access certain satellite signals from the Galileo system to augment the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS), and thus benefit from improved availability, reliability, and resiliency of these position, navigation, and timing services in the United States.”

Because it’s a newer system, Galileo is expected to offer accuracy to within a meter (3.3 ft.). Actually, it will be accurate to within a centimeter, but only the European military and paying customers will be able to be so precise.

The hardware necessary to access the free version of this global navigation satellite system (GNSS) is built into the iPhone 8 and all iOS devices released since then. All it will take is an iOS software patch to bring more accurate location data to these handsets.