China has developed its own service to rival the Global Positioning System (GPS), which is set to be completed later this month.
The Beidou navigation network will improve services reliant on location data and afford China an additional level of independence from the United States, whose Air Force operates GPS.
The first Beidou satellites were launched twenty years ago, with second and third waves entering orbit in 2012 and 2015. The final satellite will enter operation within the next few weeks, although a specific date has not been announced.
Beidou navigation network
First conceived in the 1990s as an antidote to the Chinese military’s dependence on US technology, the Beidou navigation network is estimated to have cost China in the region of $10 billion.
With the launch of its 35th satellite, Beidou will reinforce its lead over US-owned GPS, which leans on 31 satellites. Beidou is capable of pinpointing a device’s location with an accuracy of 10cm in APAC, compared to the 30cm error margin achieved by the US system.
The Beidou project is designed to secure Chinese communications networks, especially in a military context, and improve weapons targeting. It also mitigates against the risk of interference with the country’s GPS access in the event hostilities between China and the US escalate.
According to Andrew Dempster, Director of the Australian Centre for Space Engineering Research, Beidou benefited from arriving late to the scene, able to both learn from the GPS project and capitalize on technological advances that occurred in the interim.
“It has some signals that have higher bandwidth, giving better accuracy [and] has fewer orbit planes for the satellites, making constellation maintenance easier,” Dempster explained.
According to Chinese state media, services enabled by the Beidou network have been delivered to customers spanning roughly 120 countries to date. Thailand and Pakistan were reportedly the first foreign nations to utilise the service, signing on in 2013.
By 2019, meanwhile, more than 70% of smartphones in operation within China itself were reliant upon the state-owned navigation network.