Beidou, China’s home-developed satellite navigation system, has launched its global service ahead of schedule as the country looks to challenge the dominance of America’s Global Positioning System (GPS).
Ran Chengqi, director general of the China Satellite Navigation Office, briefed media on Thursday, announcing completion of the global coverage of the third-generation positioning system, ahead of the previous roll-out target of 2020.
Beidou, the Chinese name for the seven stars that make up the Big Dipper, offers a worldwide location service with an accuracy of 5 metres within the Asia-Pacific region and 10 metres in other parts of the world. One of only four global navigation satellite systems, along with America’s Global Positioning System, Russia’s Glonass and Europe’s Galileo, it is part of the country’s wider efforts to become a world leader in space and related technologies under its Made in China 2025 programme.
“Compared with other satellite navigation systems, we are confident of maintaining good performance and bringing new added services,” Ran said. “Beidou will provide stable non-stop service to countries along the Belt and Road Initiative as well as the rest of the world.”
The US GPS offers accuracy to within centimetres, but concerns over Washington’s ability to shut off service during wartime, prompted China, Russia and other nations to develop their own system.
China has already shipped more than 70 million Beidou systems, which include microchips and modules, domestically and to over 90 countries, and the system is being well-received in Russia, Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia and Kuwait, according to Ran.
“Beidou is a home-developed, independently-operated global satellite system that is compatible with other peers worldwide,” Ran said at the briefing. Most smartphones sold in China, including local brands Huawei, Xiaomi and OnePlus, and more than 2 million cars in the country, are now compatible with Beidou.
Completion of the navigation system comes after China launched 19 positioning satellites this year, seen as enough to provide basic coverage. Twelve more will be launched over the coming two years to improve the precision of the system.
Similar to the origins of GPS, Beidou started in 1994 as an air defence system with the goal of boosting the country’s space programme, while freeing up the People’s Liberation Army from its reliance on the American-built system. The Chinese navigation system now serves not only China’s civil aviation and maritime needs, but is also used in global search and rescue, telecommunications and mass consumer applications for navigation.