China's BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) will expand its cooperation to Thailand and Sri Lanka, and then to the entire Southeast Asia as well as countries in other regions of Asia and Africa, Wuhan Optics Valley Beidou Holding Group, the system's operator, said on March 30.
The latest application was the cooperation with domestic leading bicycle-sharing platform Ofo, which announced on Thursday to use BeiDou smartlock in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region to improve the accuracy of bicycle positioning.
The commercial application of BDS will usher in a golden opportunity during the 13th Five Year Plan (2016-20) period, driven by innovation and the China-proposed "One Belt and One Road" initiative, experts said on Saturday, noting the market for the navigation satellite technology in China is expected to double to 400 billion yuan ($58.12 billion) by then.
BDS is independently developed and operated by China. It is one of the four major global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) in the world, along with the US Global Positioning System (GPS), European Union's GALILEO and Russia's Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS).
The project was initiated in 1994 and began providing free services for commercial applications in the Asia-Pacific region at the end of 2012, according to a white paper on the development of BDS released by the Chinese government in June 2016.
China aims to serve countries along the "Belt and Road" route as well as neighboring countries by 2018, and is expected to launch another 35 satellites by 2020 to provide services to global users, according to the white paper. China had 23 BeiDou navigation satellites in orbit by the end of 2016, while GPS had 24 satellites.
Though BDS came about 20 years after GPS, it is catching up with the latter through advanced technological development. BeiDou adopts a hybrid constellation composed of satellites in three orbits — geostationary orbit, medium Earth orbit and inclined geosynchronization orbit. The system also provides navigation signals with several frequency points, making it more resistant to signal blockage and giving it greater accuracy, according to the white paper.
With these characteristics, BDS not only guarantees national security through its sole technologies, but can also be applied to many other areas such as emergency communication and fishery, said Miao Qianjun, secretary-general of the Global Navigation Satellite System and Location-based Services Association of China (GLAC).
"During the Wenchuan Earthquake that struck Southwest China's Sichuan Province in 2008, the BDS' short message function played an important role. It can precisely pinpoint locations during a disaster situation when there are no phone lines and telecommunication networks, as the system has satellites in geostationary orbit," Miao told the Global Times on Saturday.
Though BDS and GPS have a precision of 10 meters for civilian use, BDS' accuracy can be improved to meter-level or even centimeter-level with Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS) facilities, Li Ning, member of Precision Application Committee under GLAC, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
More and more smartphone chip manufacturers will integrate both GPS and BDS into their CPUs, as the augmented precision and usable range will not result in a significant increase in price, Li said.
By January 2017, BDS provided a total of 1.2 billion active location services, 6.1 billion short message services and more than 90 million two-way time services, the Xinhua News Agency reported in January, citing Fu Yong, head of China National Administration of GNSS and Applications.
Given its wide coverage as well as its enhanced innovation and service capacity, China's BDS is expected to be applied in a wide range of industries at home and abroad by 2020, such as smart transportation, deformation monitoring on large buildings, underground utilities and emergency situations, Miao noted.
"BDS will cover countries along the B&R route by the end of 2018 and then expand to other countries by 2020. In addition, fusion between BDS and other non-GNSS positioning technologies is expected to make new breakthroughs in location-based services," he said.
China will carry out a demonstration of the applications of BDS and push its application in key sectors such as transportation, telecommunications, electric power, and survey and mapping, according to a document on national information planning during the 13th Five Year Plan period released by the Chinese government in December.
Zhi Xiaoye, general manager of State-owned enterprise Beijing Gas Group, told the Global Times on Saturday that BDS precision services are widely used in his company's gas pipeline construction, tour inspection, leak detection and emergency repair work, which facilitates the safety management of gas pipeline networks.
The company has more than 20,000 kilometers of gas pipelines in Beijing and hires more than 1,000 employees to patrol and inspect them everyday.
"The positioning margin of error is roughly 10 meters when using GPS, but that is reduced to within 10 centimeters by using BDS with CORS facilities. After using BDS, the rate at which patrol inspectors are able to find problems increased to 90 percent from 70 percent, as the new system can position an area where there is just a one-in-one million gas leak," Zhi noted.
The company bought a 20 percent stake in Russia's oil giant Rosneft and is in negotiations to cooperate with Indonesia and Malaysia. "We will consider using BDS in building gas pipelines," Zhi added.
In addition to the infrastructure sector, BDS is used on a large scale basis in the automobile industry, including car manufacturing, automotive electronics and smart transportation service providers, Beijing-based Guangming Daily reported in February, citing Liu Jingnan, academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
In February, Bayingol Mongolian Autonomous Prefecture in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region required all local vehicles to install BDS to safeguard stability, the Global Times reported on February 20.
Liu said that the number of vehicles equipped with BDS is around 3.8 million and will increase to tens of millions in the next few years.
Miao forecasts that the market size of BDS will double to 400 billion yuan in 2020, with a compound annual growth rate of over 40 percent.