China to take free navigation system global

Updated: 2013-12-28 00:49

By ZHAO HUANXIN (China Daily)

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The world can expect to use China's "reliable" global positioning and navigation services for free by 2020, the director of the country's satellite navigation office said on Friday.

"The Beidou Navigation Satellite System is committed to providing services to the whole world — currently for the Asia-Pacific — for free," said Ran Chengqi, director of the China Satellite Navigation Office.

The office released two documents to specify China's homegrown navigation system's open service performance standard and to facilitate research and development of various terminals for global users.

After deploying 16 satellites since 2000, the country will begin launching newer navigation satellites near the end of 2014, Ran said at a news conference.

In six to eight years, the number of satellites that will be launched is expected to grow to 40 to form a constellation as coverage expands globally, according to a statement from Ran's office.

These satellites, with enhanced functions, will have a lifespan of up to 15 years. The satellites currently in use work for about eight years.

By its completion in about 2020, the global Beidou system is expected to improve the positioning accuracy from the current 10 meters to about 2.5 meters, he said.

"Satellite navigation is an important part of a country's infrastructure, and it's certainly a combined civilian and military infrastructure," Ran said, adding the completion of the Beidou system should contribute to national defense.

With the support of ground-based augmentation networks, the system's positioning precision could be further improved to the level of centimeters rather than meters, he added.

The 16 navigation satellites that have been sent include two experimental ones. The other 14 satellites operate on orbits of different altitudes, enabling the Beidou system to work for areas with valleys, multiple layers of flyovers and regions densely shaded by trees, Ran said.

"Application of the Beidou system is even better in ASEAN countries than in China," he said. For example, users in Thailand could have access to services from all of the 14 operational satellites, with positioning accuracy reaching 5 meters.

The Beidou system is compatible with multiple navigation systems, including the Global Positioning System of the United States, Russia's Glonass and the European Union's Galileo. Users will no longer have to rely on a single service, he said earlier.

Since it began to serve the Asia-Pacific a year ago, the Chinese positioning system has been well received by foreign customers, Ran said.

Users in Europe have found terminals that have access to both the Beidou system and GPS are more reliable and helpful, Ran said.

"Even though we still do not provide global coverage, its applications are already spreading worldwide," he said.

Domestically, the Beidou system, with its unique short messaging service, has been sought after among users in fishing, transport, agriculture, weather service and disaster relief, Ran said.

He estimated the number of Beidou navigation system chips for civilian use will reach a million by the end of this year.

Mobile phones embedded with the Beidou system's navigation chips will be available at the beginning of the year, he said.

Liu Qixu, director of the China Satellite Navigation Application Management Center, said the overall performance of the Chinese system has been better than designed, and a dozen of monitoring stations have been set up to detect problems and evaluate services.

The navigation system industry has outperformed most other industries in the past year, said Yu Wenxian, a professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. "Better recognition of the Beidou system among Chinese has brought the whole industry great opportunity, and a growing number of domestic, as well as overseas companies, have started to make their products compatible with Beidou's system," said Yu.

The Science and Technology Commission of Shanghai said investments of several hundred million yuan had been poured into Shanghai's navigation industry to date.

Wang Ying in Shanghai contributed to this story.