Widespread use in home market ensures success: experts
Experts said China's BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) has surpassed the U.S.-developed Global Positioning System (GPS) after having made great progress in the past few years, during which the homegrown system has found widespread application on an industrial scale in both China and the global market.
Huang Haihui, an executive at the Shenzhen-listed Beijing UniStrong Science & Technology Co, said that while the relationship between BDS and GPS is not a zero-sum game, BDS has already surpassed GPS in the Chinese market in terms of the number of chips that receive signals from the system. Huang's firm, which uses BDS, is a leader in the geospatial market.
Today, a great many chips receive signals sent by both GPS and BDS for added precision. And chips that integrate BDS and GPS are sold on the market for the same price as GPS-only chips, with the entry-level chips selling at less than 10 yuan ($1.5), according to experts.
"Not only has BDS surpassed GPS in that sense, it is also advancing in the global market, in which the system can engage in a wrist-wrestling game with the latter. In the Southeast Asian market, BDS has the upper hand," Huang told the Global Times on Thursday.
Wang Bo, a leading global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) scientist with the Beijing Institute of Technology, also echoed that sentiment, saying that, in terms of industrial output value, BDS is beating GPS in the Chinese market.
According to an industry white paper, the overall output value of the GNSS and location-based services market in China reached 211.8 billion yuan in 2016, up 22.06 percent from the previous year. And for the industry's core output, BDS contributed 70 percent.
Wang said that the growth of BDS is consistent with the rapid growth of China's national strength. "Such growth is due to the urgent and immense market demand generated in China. There is a lot of new demand created in China, which does not exist in the ecosystem for GPS."
"The growth of BDS is associated with new emerging industries in China, such as mobile Internet and the Internet of Things," Wang told the Global Times on Thursday. "For instance, BDS has applications in urban underground pipeline monitoring and driver license training. Such applications are not seen with GPS."
Wang said that the two systems are different in terms of constellation, communication capability and signal frequency. And these technological differences mean that BDS can perform more functions and is more precise than GPS.
BDS has been independently developed by China. It is one of the four major GNSS in the world, along with the US-developed GPS, the EU's Galileo and Russia's Global Navigation Satellite System, known as GLONASS.
With the current BDS, China aims to serve countries along the Belt and Road routes as well as other neighboring countries by 2018, and is expected to launch another 35 satellites by 2020 to provide services to global users.
China had 23 BeiDou navigation satellites in orbit by the end of 2016, while GPS had 24 satellites.
Huang said the advantages and progress of BDS came with the mass adaptation of the technology in the vast Chinese market and the growth of Chinese companies in the industry.
BDS has now become a calling card for China, similar to bullet trains, Huang said.
"In the past five years, the application of BDS has expanded from the national defense sector into a number of new sectors and industries - civilian use in particular," Huang said.
"These applications are massive in scale and spread across many industries. In agriculture, tractors in the field and drones flying over for inspection and monitoring are connected with BDS," he noted.
"At construction sites, engineering machinery is equipped with BDS. And at the consumer end, more and more handsets have chips that accommodate both GPS and BDS," Huang said.
"The competition is in many areas - in technology, the patents pool and the market scale. It is more than the competition between the two navigation systems; it is also competition between companies in the industrial chain of the navigation business," Huang said, adding that Chinese navigation firms have been expanding their global footprint via mergers and acquisitions in the past five years.
"The common belief that GPS is dominant [in the Chinese market] is just wrong," Wang said.