Let’s rephrase that. China has GPS, but that’s not the only thing. China’s government and military hasn’t relied on the US-built Global Positioning System for quite some time. They have their own thing called Beidou (Compass).  On-site reports from Sciendaily and BBC state that Beidou, currently using a system of 20 functional satellites, can track a user’s location to 10m (33ft), their movement speed to within 0.2 metres per second, and synchronise signals within 50 nanosecond intervals. Most importantly, the signals can reportedly be received as far as Australia.  And China is opening this up to the Asia-Pacific region. 

It’s no secret that China intends to chip away at that dominant GPS system. They expect to have global coverage by 2020, according to Chinese state media. More to the point: this is as much a strategic move as it is commercial. Beidou has reportedly been in the works since 2000 with on goal – so that the military could avoid relying on GPS. Modern Warfare 3, anyone? Speculation aside, it’s going to be tough to push this outside China. According to Morris Jones, an independent space analyst based in Sydney, it’s going to be close to impossible to beat out the tried-and-tested (and above all, free and globally recognized) tracking solution that is GPS. But we believe the Chinese might successfully get their own country off GPS and onto the new system (much like they’ve done with their Twitter clones, search engines and Facebook look-a-likes).  Right now, the components needed for Beidou rigs are far more expensive than their GPS counterparts. It’s got quite a lot of ground to cover.

According to Morris Jones, the real reason for Beidous’s existence is military. “It’s a possibility, that they could be denied access to GPS….At a time of war you do not want to be denied.”

China’s not the only one making GPS alternatives.  Russia’s Glonass, a 23-system satellite developed for military and commercial use, made some inroads before corruption reportedly shut it down. Europe has been setting up their own system, called Galileo. Test signals from the third satellite of the Galileo commenced their up-and-down journeys earlier this month. Meanwhile, points out BBC, the UK’s Bae systems has been working on something that will use existing mobile, radio and wi-fi signals to create a tracking network superior to that of orbital satellite-bases navigation systems. From their site:

“By exploiting such a wide range of signals, NAVSOP is resistant to hostile interference such as jamming (a particular weakness of GPS) and spoofing, where a bogus signal tricks a device into misidentifying its location. The new system can learn from signals that are initially unidentified to build an ever more accurate and reliable fix on its location.

A major advantage of the system is its ability to function in places where GPS is unable to reach, such as dense urban areas and deep inside buildings. It is also able to work in the most remote parts of the world, such as the Arctic, by picking up signals that include Low-Earth-Orbit satellites and other civilian signals.”

Sounds interesting? This sounds almost exactly like what the Batman came up with to find the Joker in the hit movie. Now THAT, frankly, is scary.


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