Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 02:22 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 25 Nov 2020 | 02:22 | SYDNEY

Satellite navigation: The fifth utility


Sam Roggeveen


14 January 2008 09:55

If Russian ambitions for an indigenous internet sound faintly ridiculous, don’t forget that Russia does have its own version of what has been described as the world’s ‘fifth utility’ (after water, gas, electricity and communications): a satellite navigation network. On Christmas Day Russia launched three satellites that will complete its constellation of Glonass satellites, a direct competitor to America’s Global Positioning System. Europe’s proposed satnav network, Galileo, has run into commercial trouble of late, while China’s Beidou system is currently a regional network only, but will become global.

It's hard to see why the world would need four satnav networks doing essentially the same job, and there are probably some national (or multi-national, in the case of Europe's Galileo project) vanity issues at play. But there are also strategic considerations: military operations are now heavily dependent on GPS, and the Chinese and Russians do not want to be at the mercy of a service the US could turn off, degrade or spoof.