Chinese GPS Alternative Opens To Consumers


BeiDou satellite navigation system will finally appear on smartphones

The Chinese government has opened access to the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS), an alternative to American GPS, Russian GLONASS and European Galileo systems that has been in development since the 1980s.

Under the new rules, consumers and businesses in China will be able to take advantage of the service that was previously reserved for government and military uses. Even though the system was proven to work way back in 2000, by the end of 2012 it had just 130,000 subscribers.

Secret recipe

BeiDou, named after a Chinese constellation equivalent to the Big Dipper, consists of two separate satellite systems – a limited test system (BeiDou-1) that has been operational since 2000, and a full-scale global navigation system (BeiDou-2, also known as Compass) that is currently under construction.

Beidou_navigation_satellite_systemAt the moment, BeiDou-2 has 16 satellites in orbit, with another 19 planned by 2020. The system was launched in China in 2011, and began serving the Asia-Pacific region last December.

Now, the Chinese authorities want to allow wider access to BDS, starting with smartphones. “We are seeking favourable policies and attracting investment to promote the technology for public use. It will not be long before mobile phones adopt the BeiDou system,” Yang Qiangwen, from the China Satellite Navigation Office, told Xinhua news agency.

It’s not just mobile device owners that stand to benefit from this new initiative. In January, China’s Ministry of Transport instructed major transport network operators in nine provinces and urban centres to install the BDS service when they renew their navigation terminals.

Shanghai will also kick off a project that will use BDS services to transform the municipality into a “smart city”, Xinhua reported.

According to Qiangwen, navigation precision has been improving steadily since BeiDou began providing services outside of China.

Next year, the Satellite Navigation Office will launch another satellite over Thailand, to help warn about impending natural disasters and monitor the country’s transport, electricity and environmental infrastructure. The $319 million project will give Thailand access to China’s advanced geospatial technology, and this will be the first time BDS technology will appear in a foreign market.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the University of Nottingham, in partnership with several organisations representing the space sector, has launched the annual European Satellite Navigation Competition. This year’s event will be the first to use data provided by the brand new Galileo satellites.

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