BeiDou, China's domestically built navigation satellite system, that was originally designed to be a military tool, has gradually entered many aspects of daily life. Striving to seize the initiative and enter a market dominated by GPS, which is controlled by the U.S. department of defense, China is ambitious to make BeiDou a new global brand.
Li Runsheng, a 40-year-old herder from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, has hundreds of sheep spread across the vast grasslands of the region.
But he knows where most of them are at any moment, because many wear collars that send a signal to Chinese-built satellites. The control that the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) chips gives him has revived his prospects of success.
"The collars can not only help us give each animal a unique identification number and trace them reliably, but can also tell us which sheep have reached slaughter age," Li, from Urad Front Banner, Bayannur City, Alxa League, told the Global Times.
He established a sheep farming cooperative with four partners several years ago. He is one of the only two who have stuck with the business though, as sales were poor. "It's hard to convince urban consumers that our sheep are really raised cage-free in pastures in Alxa," Li explained.
Alxa mutton is famous for its tenderness, as non-Alxa meat is often falsely labeled as being from the region.
This year Li has cooperated with Ala Farm, a firm which has attempted to build bridges between China's herdsmen and consumers, and now more than 1,000 of his sheep are wearing BDS collars.
According to Ala Farm founder Guo Zhiguo, they can provide consumers with real-time visual information concerning the livestock's movement and growth with the help of BDS and drones. Likewise, herdsmen like Li can use this technology to monitor his animals from his mobile phone or a tablet computer.
Li is just one of many who have already benefited from BDS, a domestically developed global navigation satellite system which officially started to offer civilian services in certain regions in 2012.
From tractors planting seeds in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, to tracking devices used by law enforcement officers, a dam monitoring system in Quanzhou, East China's Fujian Province, to a smart home-care system for seniors living in Anyang, Central China's Henan Province, BDS has begun to seep into almost every aspect of modern life.
In 2000, feeling anxious about its reliance on foreign-controlled satellite systems, China set up the BeiDou navigation test system, making China the third country to develop such a system after the U.S. and Russia.
One major cause of this anxiety was the worry that in the case of a U.S.-China conflict, the U.S. would block China from using the GPS system and leave the country at a major disadvantage.
BDS, built by the State-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, aims to provide positioning, navigation and timing services globally by 2020. The civilian service is provided free of charge, with a current positioning accuracy of 10 meters, according to beidou.gov.cn. After the building of ground stations to enhance BDS signals nationwide, the accuracy will grow to be within 1 meter in China, according to reports.
Thanks to government funding and subsidies, as well as its market potential, civilian uses of BDS have thrived in China in recent years. According to media reports, BDS has already been widely applied to farming, meteorology, transportation, fishing, public security and disaster relief.
In a speech made at the 7th China Satellite Navigation Conference held in May in Changsha, Central China's Hunan Province, Zhu Fugang, an official from the Ministry of Public Security said that more than half of Chinese police's tracking devices now use BDS, with the proportion set to increase.
The number of daily BeiDou users has surpassed 10 million, according to Tan Shusen, who worked on BDS, and this figure is expected to triple this year.
Wang Hansheng, vice president of Olink Star, a Beijing-based company that makes navigation satellite system products, revealed to the Global Times that about 30 to 50 million smartphones installed with multi-mode chips that will be compatible with BDS, GPS and Russia's GLONASS are expected to hit the market this year. They will be mainly domestic-made smartphones, such as Huawei, Wang said.