China’s Beidou to rival GPS

By Yang Jinghao Source:Global Times Published: 2011-12-28 1:05:04


An illustration to the function of China's <a href=Beidou Navigation Satellite System." src="">
An illustration to the function of China's Beidou Navigation Satellite System.



China's Beidou Navigation Satellite System officially went into service Tuesday, signaling a reduced dependency on the US Global Positioning System (GPS) and the arrival of a possible future market rival.

The Beidou, which is Chinese for the Big Dipper, will cover most parts of the Asia-Pacific after six more satellites are launched in 2012, Ran Chengqi, director of the China Satellite Navigation Office, said at Tuesday's press conference.

He added that global coverage is expected by 2020.

"Currently, the system can reach as far as Australia in the south and Russia in the north," Ran told the Global Times.

Following the launch of the first experimental satellites in 2000, China became the third nation in the world to possess an independent navigation satellite system.

Its competitors include the world-leading GPS system, Russia's GLONASS system, which is also ready for service, and Europe's Galileo, which is still under development.

The AP said Tuesday that China, and especially its military, have long been wary of relying on the GPS network, fearing that Washington might take the system offline in a conflict or an emergency.

Ran did not shed light on Beidou's possible military uses, but said without an independently established and operated navigation satellite system, China would lack a reliable safeguard for its economic and social development.

He noted that the Beidou system will highlight China's status as a great nation and reflect its comprehensive national power.

"It will also be a new economic growth point for China."

Currently, the Beidou system can provide all weather positioning, navigation and timing services, as well as short message services for all kinds of users, according to Ran.

"The short message service is the unique feature of the system, and an advantage," Ran said." Generally speaking, other systems just tell the time and location, while Beidou is also able to send your location information if you want others to know your whereabouts."

Ran highlighted the successful application of this messaging function in disaster-relief efforts for the Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan Province in 2008 and the Yushu earthquake in Qinghai Province in 2010.

Pang Zhihao, a space technology researcher, echoed Ran's view, adding that the Beidou system's compatibility with other systems is another merit expected to make it popular among users.

Pang pointed out that more efforts are required to perfect Beidou, including improvements in its positioning accuracy.

Currently, the Beidou system is able to provide a positioning accuracy of about 25 meters, which will be improved to around 10 meters by the end of next year, Ran revealed.

A plan released by the office shows that when the system is fully completed, users will be provided with different services with an accuracy of one meter and short message services with the capacity of 120 Chinese characters each time.

"The challenges ahead include how to lower the launch costs of satellites and the longevity of these probes," Pang said, adding that Beidou adopts the "one rocket one satellite" mode.

"The Russians send three satellites at one launch but this mode carries more risks," Pang said.

Since 2000, when the first Beidou navigation experiment satellite was launched, China has sent 10 satellites into space, the latest coming on December 2 this year.

Despite being in the early stage of its service, analysts generally held a favorable view of the system's market prospects.

Ran said government departments of various levels and types have included the Beidou system in their routine work for different purposes.

A total of 10,000 government cars in Guangdong Province were required to be equipped with the Beidou navigation satellite system before August 31 for better supervision and management, the Southern Daily reported.

Many enterprises in the Pearl River Delta area have begun research on terminals of the Beidou system or even trials through driving tests, according to Ran.

"I am glad to switch from the GPS to the Beidou system, as it is made by China," Yang Xiaohui, a frequent GPS user in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, told the Global Times while expressing her optimism toward the system.

"I am just worried that the Beidou is not as technologically mature as GPS, but if the price is competitive, I would like to try it," she said.

Figures from the Report on Status of Geographic Information Industry in China, released Monday by the National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation, show that there are more than 30,000 active Beidou terminals installed in cars.

The report pointed out that at least 95 percent of the satellite navigation market share in China is taken by GPS and this situation will remain for a relatively long period.


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