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GPS rival Beidou will cover Asia Pac by end of the year

Chinese satnav project could go global as early as 2014

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

China will expand its home grown GPS rival Beidou by launching three global positioning satellites that it hopes will make it possible to have the service up and running in Asia Pacific by the end of the year.

Beidou, which translates as “Big Dipper”, will be able to provide a high quality positioning, navigation and time service by the end of 2012 with countries such as Pakistan and Mongolia set to adopt the system, in the next one to two years, according to China Daily.

The satnav system has 11 satellites in orbit at present, three of which launched this year. It is currently able to locate to within ten metres in most of mainland China, but could reach global coverage as early as 2014, the report revealed.

Cao Chong, director of the Advisory Centre of the China Association for Global Navigation Satellite Systems, told the state-run paper that Beidou-based products are already being used in cars and ships.

"Beidou was put into service just a few years ago, so it is hard for it to compete with GPS," Cao added.

"I think products that are compatible with both Beidou and other global positioning system technologies, such as that of GPS, will flourish in the next few years in China, and hold a majority share of the market."

The news will be greeted by some stern faces at the Pentagon, where Beidou is seen as another sign of China’s growing military ambitions.

Aside from its well-documented civilian uses, global positioning systems like Beidou are vital for modern warfare and there is the fear that in the event of a conflict China could cripple the West by knocking out GPS.

China is not the only country looking to move away from reliance on the well-established US system, however.

Russia is investing in revamping its GLONASS system while the French military is said to be driving the European Galileo satnav project. ®

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