The Beidou satellite navigation network began offering positioning data yesterday for the Asia-Pacific region - a milestone in Beijing's bid to challenge the US-controlled Global Positioning System (GPS).
The move comes exactly a year after authorities provided the first satellite location information to civilian users on the mainland using the second-generation Beidou Navigation System (BDS).
Expanding into the Asia-Pacific region - from Afghanistan to the Western Pacific and Mongolia to northern Australia - puts the system on track to claim 15 to 20 per cent of the GPS-dominated domestic market by 2015, said Ran Chengqi , a BDS spokesman and director of the China Satellite Navigation Office.
Beijing aims to have BDS serve 70 to 80 per cent of the domestic market by 2020, when it is expected to become China's first global navigation system.
An early version has been used by traffic control systems in more than 100,000 vehicles in nine provinces and cities.
"We are stepping up efforts to turn BDS into an international system, which will be commonly used by civil aviation, maritime and mobile communication organisations," Ran said.
The central government has spent billions on the system and in the coming decade plans to invest over 40 billion yuan (HK$49 billion) more, Ran said.
By 2020, Beidou is expected to comprise a network with 35 satellites, providing Chinese military and civilian users around the world with positioning, navigation and timing services.
An estimated 95 per cent of global-positioning equipment on the mainland still relies on GPS data, Xinhua said.
Meanwhile, the output of the country's navigation service sector is expected to top 120 billion yuan this year.
"We are encouraging our potential clients to use both BDS and the GPS system, as Beidou is compatible with other networks," Ran said. He acknowledged that the relatively high price of Beidou receiver chips would remain a barrier to commercialising the system, even though he said its technology was more advanced than that used by GPS, Russia's Glonass and Europe's Galileo.
"Since Beidou is a budding business, there is a gap between our system and GPS as well as other overseas peers, with prices being the biggest difference," Ran said. Increasing the number of BDS users would help bring down the price.
Satellite expert Wang Xudong , an adviser to the central government, said Beidou would eventually be cheaper than GPS if it becomes commonly used in mainland mobile phones, cars and public transport.