China is investing $810 million into the development of Beidou (BDS), the navigation satellite system that it is positioning as a rival to the U.S.-developed GPS.
According to China Daily, the money will be used to build an industrial park that will house 30 to 50 companies focused on developing an ecosystem for Beidou. Based in Tianjin, the industrial park is expected to welcome its first 20 companies in June.
The Chinese government not only wants Beidou to eventually dominate China’s $19.2 billion navigation service sector, but also sees it as a way to make China’s military less dependent on foreign technology. This would protect the country if the U.S. decided to deny it access to GPS and also potentially give it a strategic advantage. As DefensePolicy.Org writes, “Aside from the commercial applications of Beidou, the placement of an independent global navigation system would give China a considerable strategic military advantage in the event hostilities should break out in the Asia-Pacific Region. Most notably, such an advantage would be useful in countering foreign naval forces and with particularity those of the United States.”
Beidou can also offer China more quotidian advantages. For example, developers hope that the system will allow taxi drivers to quickly locate nearby passengers, which in turn would cut down on emissions and improve the capital’s air quality. Watches synced to Beidou navigational satellites can identify a user’s location within 10 meters and clock synchronization signals to within 50 nanoseconds.
In a March interview, the chief commander of China’s lunar exploration mission Chang’e-3, Ye Peijian, said that Beidou will achieve full-scale global coverage by around 2020 and will be able to provide highly accurate and reliable positioning and navigation with the aid of 35 satellites. China has so far launched 16 navigation satellites.
Beidou has been used by the Chinese government and military for transport, weather forecasts, fishing, forestry, telecommunications, hydrological monitoring and mapping since December (it originally launched on a trial basis back in 2003), but more than 95 percent of navigation terminals used in China still rely on GPS. According to industry statistics cited in China Daily, the total output of China’s navigation service sector in 2012 topped 120 billion yuan ($19.2 billion).
In addition to its navigation and timing functions, Beidou’s terminals will also be able to communicate with the ground station with short messages in Chinese characters. China’s government hopes that its language functionality will allow it to grab 70 to 80 percent of domestic market share away from GPS by 2020, and also allow Beidou to gain traction in other Sinophone countries.