China’s GPS Rival Extends Its Reach to Europe and Africa

December 28, 2018, 10:42 AM UTC
China Launches Twin BeiDou-3 Navigation Satellites
A Long March-3B rocket carrying twin BeiDou-3 navigation satellites blasts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on August 25, 2018
China News Service/VCG via Getty Images

China’s alternative to the American-owned GPS extended its coverage beyond the Asia-Pacific region with a goal of becoming a dominating technology in the future, spurring gains in shares of related companies.

The service, called Beidou, is now available in some parts of Europe and Africa within China’s Belt and Road initiative, spokesman Ran Chengqi told reporters on Thursday in Beijing. The company, which uses a series of satellites to provide users’ precision positioning with an error of about 10 meters, plans to launch 12 more satellites by 2020.

“From today, wherever you go Beidou will be with you, anywhere, anytime,” said Ran.

China stocks linked to Beidou advanced Friday. China Spacesat Co., whose products include navigation equipment based on Beidou’s technology, climbed as much as 5.2 percent in Shanghai trading. Beijing BDStar Navigation Co., Shanghai Huace Navigation Technology Ltd., and Guangzhou Hi-Target Navigation Tech Co. all gained as much as 10 percent in Shenzhen trading before giving up gains later in the day.

China started work on its own satellite navigation and positioning system in the 1990s to reduce its dependence on the Global Positioning System developed by the U.S. Named after the Chinese word for the Big Dipper star pattern, the Beidou system is now in its third stage and is capable of providing navigation and positioning services in different geographical regions. The goal is to have complete worldwide coverage by the end of this decade.

Beidou, which provides navigation and positioning for China’s military and critical infrastructure, is finding increasing use in everything from mapping services to cars and smartphones. China launched the 42nd and 43rd Beidou satellites in November.

Most smartphone chips sold globally will be compatible with Beidou, the first navigation system to have built-in telecommunications features such as text messaging.

Beidou is among a slew of ambitious projects that the world’s second-largest economy is undertaking to sharpen its competitiveness in aerospace. Earlier this month, China sent a probe to the far side of the moon, a place no other country’s probe has ventured into. The nation is also developing civil passenger aircraft that could eventually rival models from Airbus SE and Boeing Co., while its private startups are racing to launch rockets to send satellites into orbit at low cost to meet demand for commercial space services.