The GNSS market


In an ever more connected world, society’s use of high integrity positional, navigational and timing (PNT) data is growing at a huge rate. The easy and cost-effective availability of global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), (GPS, Glonass and others), has meant that their use as primary sources of data can be found in an increasing number of products and services. The range of applications stretch from in-car navigation right up to highly accurate geodetic surveying, and from network synchronisation to climate research.

“It is estimated that, already, 6-7% of GDP in Western countries, i.e. €800 billion in the European Union, is dependent on satellite radio navigation.” – Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, Mid-term review of the European satellite radio navigation programmes dated 18 January 2011.

PNT data is therefore now a major economic asset.

The accuracy, pervasiveness and convenience of GPS mean that its application has moved far beyond navigation and the list of applications continues to grow. The time signals from the GPS system in particular have found application in managing data networks and mobile telephony.

The next five years (to 2015) will see a massive boost to GNSS with the introduction of satellites from up to four constellations, plus the extra, more powerful, signals being added to GPS and GLONASS. Within 5 years 100 plus satellites could be available to the user.

Apart from very low-cost applications, GPS only receivers will probably become a thing of the past. This will be partly driven by the plan to move GLONASS from frequency to code division multiple access, and partly driven by the development of the Galileo and Compass systems. Multi-GNSS tracking will deliver improved availability, accuracy and integrity.

Market size projections

ABI Research

Total GNSS market (based on Global Navigation Satellite Positioning Solutions, Markets and Applications for GPS, Galileo and GLONASS, Bonte and Ippoliti, ABIresearch, March 2008)

ProDDAGE market research

According to the ProDDAGE (Programme for the Development and Demonstration of Applications of Galileo and EGNOS), Market Analysis (Arthur and Jenkins, ESYS plc, November 2005), the overall GNSS market was forecast to be 3.1 billion receivers in 2025, with 1.9 billion and 1.1 billion from mobile phones and road transport markets respectively. Worldwide revenues from GNSS products and services were estimated to exceed €450 billion from 3.1 billion users by 2025. These market results remain the current benchmark for the evaluation of market opportunities for the upstream and downstream industry.

Range of applications

The free availability and accuracy of GNSS signals for location and timing, combined with reducing cost of the hardware, has made GNSS the chosen solution for a very wide and growing range of applications. These include transport (rail, road, aviation, marine, cycling, walking), agriculture, fisheries, law enforcement, highways management, services for vulnerable people, energy production and management, surveying, dredging, health services, financial services, information services, cartography, safety monitoring, scientific and environmental studies, search and rescue, telecommunications, tracking vehicles and valuable or hazardous cargoes, and quantum cryptography.

A comprehensive list of applications can be found here

At present, road transport applications are the majority users of GNSS signals, for in-car navigation, commercial fleet management, taxi services, public transport monitoring and passenger information, and emergency vehicle location, dispatch and navigation. GNSS-based road user charging schemes have been introduced in other countries and are under consideration in the UK.

In Aviation, most commercial aircraft now use GNSS for en-route navigation and several States have licensed GNSS for initial approach and non-precision approach to specified airfields. Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) is increasingly used in areas of the world where there is no radar coverage; this involves aircraft calculating their position using GNSS and other sources and broadcasting it to other aircraft.

Maritime applications include ocean and inshore navigation, dredging, port approaches, harbour entrance and docking, vessel traffic services (VTS), Automatic Identification System (AIS) hydrography, and cargo handling.

Railway applications include the management of rolling stock, passenger information, preventing doors opening unless they are alongside the platform, cargo tracking signalling, train integrity and level crossing approach. The Rail Safety and Standards Board forecasts that GNSS will be in use this decade for railway signalling and train movement control and monitoring.

The use of GNSS for navigation of civil unmanned vehicles includes Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and autonomous land vehicles (from lawnmowers to agricultural machinery).

Scientific applications of GNSS are widespread and include surveying, environmental and atmospheric monitoring, animal behaviour studies, botanical specimen location, meteorology and climate research. GNSS is used in agriculture and fisheries for land area mapping, yield monitoring, precision planting and spraying, autonomous vehicle control and to monitor fishing limits.

Security applications include tracking of vehicles and valuable cargoes, and covert tracking of suspects. The police use GNSS for tracking suspects and generating evidence to use in prosecutions and for situational awareness for armed response units.

GNSS timing is important for telecommunications applications. Synchronous technologies are much more efficient than asynchronous technologies but require a time source with appropriate accuracy, stability and reliability to operate effectively or at all, and GNSS can provide this. While ground-based clocks are accurate enough for this purpose (especially with the availability of chip scale atomic clocks (CSAC)), the synchronisation of many such clocks is problematic. GPS allows the derivation of synchronised UTC through resolving the signals from a number of satellites at a known position. Only a ‘good guess’ of the current time is required and quartz clocks have therefore been adequate for this process making synchronous time keeping significantly more cost effective.

The use of time can be split into three clear and separate aspects: frequency control, time of day and common epoch (usually UTC) time slot alignment (also known as ‘Phase’). Stability of radio communications transmission, constant digital traffic flow, time slot alignment and traditional services over next generation Ethernet based infrastructure are some of the features that good time and timing bring to communications networks.

Financial systems increasingly need precise time stamping to prioritise trades and to provide an audit trail.

Some critical applications of GNSS

In road transport, emergency vehicle location, dispatch and navigation require medium availability and accuracy. Future applications such as automated highways and lane control will need very high availability, integrity and accuracy. In aviation, search and rescue already uses GNSS, and control of the movement of aircraft and other vehicles on airports and precision landing approaches are being considered. Safety of Life maritime applications include search and rescue, synchronisation of flashing navigational aids, and navigation in crowded waterways under low visibility conditions.

Go here for a more complete list of existing and planned GNSS applications together with their required PNT accuracy.


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Procyon GNSS range


A star is born.