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FCC paves the way for improved GPS accuracy

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The commission approved an order that will allow consumer devices to tap into a European satellite system

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) paved the way for improved GPS and location accuracy today, approving an order that will allow US phones to access a European satellite system.

The order allows non-federal consumer devices to access the European Union’s version of GPS, which is also known as Galileo. The system is available globally, and it officially went live in 2016. By opening up access, devices that can retrieve a signal from both Galileo and the US GPS system will see improved timing estimates and location reliability. The iPhone 8 was the first Apple product to support it. Other phone models from Huawei and Samsung support the system, too.

“Since the debut of the first consumer handheld GPS device in 1989, consumers and industry in the United States have relied on the US GPS to support satellite-based positioning, navigation, and timing services that are integral to everyday applications ranging from driving directions to precision farming,” the FCC said in a release. Now, the US system will be able to commingle with the European one, making the way for better reliability, range, and accuracy.

The approved order does not grant US consumer devices access to any other signals, like the Galileo E6, because the frequency bands are not used by the US GPS system to provide timing services.

“This breakthrough serves the public interest across many areas of our economy, including the automotive, aviation, rail, maritime, and agriculture industries,” Chairman Ajit Pai said. “It will also produce public safety benefits by reducing risks of accidents and disaster, aiding emergency response, and synchronizing power grids and critical infrastructure.”