back to article Chinese confirm Beidou satnav system is operational

Chinese officials have confirmed that the country’s Beidou satellite navigation system is operational, albeit mainly in China, and say they plan to have free, global coverage in place by 2020. At a press conference the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation said that Beidou – which translates as Big Dipper - is …


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  1. dave 93
    Thumb Up

    Multiple systems are good

    If they are all designed and implemented differently then the chance that they all go down at once is reduced. So in 2020, good Satnav systems will get four sets of data to compare and use as appropriate - cool.

    1. Charles Manning

      It is possible to use them together

      Multiple SVs from different contellations can even be used in a single positioning solution. You don't have to just compare the final positions.

      Of course they all use RF in similar bands which means that they can all be nobbled simultaneously by solar flares etc,

      Some, but not all, existing satnavs might be able to track these new SVs with just a firmware update.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    translation (this is a UK not a US site after all)

    Beidou -> 'Ursa Major' or 'the Great Bear' -> in the northern hemisphere the pointers to Polaris, the North Star. hence Beidou == Compass.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Thing is...

      Polaris is actually the tail end of Ursa Minor (aka the Little Dipper). Why refer to Ursa Major when the star that has guided navigators for centuries is part of another constellation?

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        What do they teach kids in school nowdays

        Take two very nicely defined and clearly visible stars from the edge of the _BIG_ dipper, draw an imaginary line and the first bright star is Polaris.

        The problem with finding the small dipper is that most of its stars are fairly non-descript and not particularly bright. So the method using an extension of the big is what they used to teach on survival (and civil defense) courses throughout the northern Hemisphere. At least outside UK. I remember having this explained to me in the 3rd or fourth grade and repeated several times later on.

        So despite being unable to locate the small dipper (or most of the constellations) I can still find you Polaris straight away.

        So the name is right - it should be the "Big" not the small dipper.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          In the UK it's commonly called the Plough.

          Probably because it actually does look like one.

          I never could figure out how it was supposed to resemble a bear, but those ancient Greeks were a bit mad.

          1. Zack Mollusc

            You are confused, it is a large bear pulling a plough.

          2. Anonymous Cowerd

            @Richard 12

            The Plough is the 7stars (aka the Big Dipper).

            The Great Bear - Ursa Major - consists of approximately 18-20 stars (depending on which definition is used), of which the 7 of the Plough are only some.

    2. Andrew Moore

      And strangely enough- COMPASS will be its commercial name.

  3. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Nice specifications

    However it is missing things like the actual data format. However that specification already enables you to take a look at the signal.

    As for more reliability, unfortunately I will have to put a damper on those hopes. It's in the same frequency range as GPS so penetration won't be better.

    And Galileo, don't hold your breath, some people speculate that it only takes so long, so all the other players will build their own system therefore relieving Europe from having to make its own system.

  4. Dan Paul
    Black Helicopters

    Man with two, three, four worldwide GPS systems does not know where he (or his Drone) is.

    It's hard enough to keep various systems synchconized as it is, let alone 3-4 "worldwide' GPS sattellite systems, each having various accuracies, software, firmware, manufacturer etc etc.

    Let alone the comment that the Chinese would want "compatability" between the US and Chinese system and I have a concern as to "how compatable" these systems would (or should) be.

    It seems to me that the Chinese know alltogether too much about how our military GPS system works and that they have shared that info with some of their friends in the Middle East.

    I would prefer that there would be no comingling of GPS systems between Chinese and American systems since GPS obviously has so much military useage. Not to mention Iran's recent spoofing of GPS timing signals and resultant Drone capture.

    Looks to me that it's time to brush up on our map and compass skills. Because you never know what "backdoor" is in that Chinese made GPS chip.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      It may be simpler than that.

      Compatibility in this case may be nothing more than making sure it doesn't hit the same frequencies at the same time as any of the other systems. It's of mutual benefit since the last thing ANY of the countries want (China included) is crosstalk messing up the signals.

    2. John Bailey


      Whaaaa.. If everybody has their own, we can't turn ours off and ground everybody else.

      Grow up. Nobody is going to attack you, You have nothing anybody wants.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Well, aren't you fashionably anti-America? See, what I don't get is why someone so convinced that we're a bunch of tools needs to resort to obvious untruths ('You have nothing anybody wants') to complete a good... to complete a flame.

        We certainly have a lot of things nobody wants - Newt Gingrich comes immediately to mind - but having nothing anyone DOES want? The TCP/IP that helped Mr. Bailey's post across the pond to me suggests that even -he- wants something we -had-, at least. And I'm guessing that the CPU that's interpreting the flame was designed here, and that the TFT monitor was researched here, and that the plastic and velcro and gore-tex and nylon and etc, etc, etc.

        The point here is not to brag (as I am not personally responsible for any of the above - including, thankfully, Mr. Gingrich) but to ask: Why? Why, if your position is so strong on me and my countrymen being utter twats, would your only argument be so bizarre? To quote Hudson Hornet from my son's regrettably-favorite movie, "I'm confused."

        1. Vic

          > I'm guessing that the CPU that's interpreting the flame was designed here

          The CPU I am using was designed in Cambridge...


        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          Hey David W., relax a bit, have another coffee, calm down. The simple statement that there is nothing in the good old US of A that is worth invading the country for seems plausible enough to me and not worth a rant. Similarly I don't suppose that there is anything sufficiently obnoxious to justify an invasion. Invasions are very costly and dangerous. Old fashioned diplomacy and commerce etc will (hopefully) suffice for the world's needs.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "And I'm guessing that the CPU that's interpreting the flame was designed here, and that the TFT monitor was researched here"

          No, any significant research for the TFT I'm using done outside Japan was done in the UK. Granted the ASICs driving it would have most likely been designed using EDA software from an American firm, but then again the actual coding of that would likely have been done in a former Soviet nation or the near East.

          HTH :-)

        4. Anonymous Coward

          Oh, and we have grain!

          Amber waves of it! Vast waves of amber grain!

          I mean, come on - Japan, Europe, even the Ukraine's grain! Is it as wavey? No! Is it as ambery? No! So yeah, don't even try to tell me people wouldn't want our amber waves of grain. It's even in some song.

          ...and that wasn't a troll. It was genuine frustration with the apparently ubiquitous, anti-US bias that seems to be a default position here. It's a bit like (Yes, these references are almost Godwin level now) the XKCD cartoon where a boy performing badly at math is told he's bad at math, while a girl performing badly at math results in the presumption that girls are bad at math. Except here, it's, if a eurozone bank fails due to greedy policy, it's due to its being a bad bank; if a US bank fails due to greedy policy, it's because America is full of greedy people and is unfair and everyone has guns and is fat and watches Fox news. I've seen it dozens of times, and that suggests two things:

          1) Europeans have kneejerk prejudice about the US, just as the US has kneejerk prejudice about the EU. It seems to me that the vocal expression thereof (not just from this forum) skews more toward the former, and is more extreme; any remotely pro-US post or defense (however justified and calm) of the US seems to immediately attract thumbs-down approaching the dozen level.

          2) I read the Reg too much.

          I'm perfectly happy to slam the US where justified, but the automatic venom spat at the slightest mention of the United States is really quite off-putting - particularly when it's bald-facedly hypocritical (criticism of the US as being a jackbooted police state for putting up four traffic cameras in Montana, say, or on el Reg's part itself; mocking derision and anger when the US bans online gambling but not a whisper when the US un-bans it).

          There, that's it, then. See, I even learned British speech patterns! I think I'll go have a nice lie-down; the excitement's made me head hurt.

    3. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

      If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear

      The troll icon, yep, definitely.

  5. David 45

    Travel is not optional

    Not sure why the Chinese would bother. They probably won't let their citizens travel much anyway!

    1. DanceMan


      When I eat lunch in Vancouver's Chinatown I've occasionally been talking to Chinese tourists. Okay, to their daughter, because she knew English, and my Mandarin ends at "How are you."

    2. Mr Young

      LDA #Travel_is_not_optional ; Error handler required here

      Yes-maybe the Chinese authorities have traditionally made it look difficult to travel but I guess they are only trying to control things a little? For example - where do you think all the factory workers and city builders appear from? That's got me wondering on the average distance a worker moves from home?! Nice people the Chinese - friendly and polite)

    3. Jeff Minter

      Born in a different century

      Are you still stuck in the Mao era?

  6. VeganVegan

    Pedant alert

    Beidou is literally northern bucket.

    The bei part means north.

    The dou part is a bucket that can hold 20 kilos (usually of rice).

    The northern bucket is the Chinese name for the Big Dipper (that points to Polaris, etc., etc.).

    p.s. GLONASS is an acronym, that essentially means GLObal NAvigation Sputnik (satellite) System. GPS is acronym for Global Positioning System. The name Galileo is purely to honour the pioneering astronomer.

    1. Graham Dawson

      I initially misread that as astronaut and was about to ask a silly question...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      literal translations are not always correct translations.

    3. mhenriday

      As a matter of fact, while the term «dou» (斗) can indeed refer to a unit of dry measure,

      currently about 10 litres, it also is used to refer to objects shaped like a cup or a dipper, which is the usage at issue here, as can be seen by this explanation of the term on the Baidu website ( : “北斗”一词的本义是指北方夜空中接近北极点的一个星组,其形状如舀水的斗勺,故名。So rather than «northern bucket», a more correct (literal) rendering in English would be «northern dipper». Just goes to show....

      In any event, kudos to the Chinese ! Why is it taking us so long here in Europe to get Galileo up and working ? Or don't we mind that much of our vital infrastructure is subject to the control of the Pentagon (and the people who control the Pentagon) ?...


  7. Pondule

    Getting crowded up there

    A few more targets to get hit by space junk.

  8. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    You have reached your destination

    Or are 10,000miles from it.

    China's system is unique in that it uses geostationary satelites always in the same position above the equator. Apart from giving you very limited cover anywhere not on the equator, the accuracy and signal strength get very bad as you go north - it also means you can't tell if you are north or south of it from this system alone

    The other problem is that if you want to invade or bomb somewhere you have to put a geostationary satelite over it first.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    EU lagging as usual

    Most interesting thing is perhaps that it's not a "receive only" type system (sayeth wikipedia) but requires the ground set to send out a pulse to which the satellites that receive it reply. It might spell less need for spendy cesium clocks up there, but does have Chinese Implications. It also appears to enable "communication", maybe of a sms-type nature. Which is pretty useful, in a way. But giving your location away while trying to find out where you are may prove a bit of an unfortunate weakness.

    Anyway, how long before we can have handsets that can use all four systems?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Tinfoil hat on...

      '..Most interesting thing is perhaps that it's not a "receive only" type system (sayeth wikipedia) but requires the ground set to send out a pulse to which the satellites that receive it reply..'

      At Beidou satnav control HQ

      Controller1 - 'ID:80dee2df79440e41a3c9f989a1b95821 has just been flagged, current location, at 23°59'26.15"N, 119°49'45.69"E.

      Controller2 - "Naughty Boy...he shouldn't be there..dispatch the missile/interceptor/snatch squad"

      1. asiaseen

        Maybe needs a lifeboat

        he could well be drowning

    2. Jeff Minter

      Titles are crap

      Yes, like with GPS and every other tracking device (cellular triangulation) out there. How else is it supposed to work?

  10. Hotears

    No L5 equivalent?

    This is pretty much GPS L1 (not surprising, DSSS is a good way to do it), at a slight frequency offset, at twice the chip rate (better code tracking precision, position/timing wise).

    What surprises me is that there is no L2/L5 (in GPS terms) equivalent signal. Your everyday L1 receiver depends on a ionosphere model to compensate for the delay through the atmosphere. In GPS, L2 allows the delay to be measured, resulting in great precision enhancement. The reason your everyday receiver doesn't do L2 is it is military-only and encrypted. Thus, the latest GPS sats have L5, which is the same thing, just not encrypted.

    I'm confused.

  11. Arctic fox

    "The EU has been lagging behind on this front, mainly down to..............

    .......................squabbling over funding methods and cost overruns."

    It also has to be mentioned that, initially at least, the US did a lot of heavy lobbying against Galileo in an effort to get the project dropped. They were not happy with Europe having a nav system independent of the US and gps.

  12. ratfox Silver badge

    "providing location data and SMS messaging"

    ...Wait, what? SMS messaging? What the hell is this doing in a satellite system? Do they plan to make the system profitable by overcharging 10 pennies for a handful of bytes transferred?

    1. Steve Knox

      Given the cost...

      of shooting the satellites up there, and the assertion that the sat nav part is free, I'd say 10 pennies per message would be undercharging.

  13. Filippo

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but the GPS system doesn't require the device on the ground to send any signal to the satellites. The Chinese system allows for SMS, so it requires the ground device to send a signal into orbit. Won't that be a major problem when attempting to miniaturize the device, and what about battery life?

    1. Roger Stenning


      It's an interesting angle, though. It suggests that the satellites won't just be for a GPS system, but for minor cellular comms of some for as well.

      Given that the PLAN (Peoples Liberation Army Navy, and no, I'm not making that up, it's what they call their navy) have taken recent delivery of a pubescent Aircraft Carrier, and that they're ramping up (pardon the pun) the capabilities of their naval forces, I'd suggest that the constellation that they're establishing will have a major role to play with the PLAN Communications system.

      It's a neat idea, really, and one that I'm sure the Americans thought of when they first considered GPS for military purposes. Problem is, in those days, comsats were damned costly. GPS ones are too, but comsats, if included in the package, won't cost nearly as much as they would separately, and lets not forget, the Chinese are currently making all manner of high-tech kit - it's not all Cold War Soviet vacuum tubes anymore, they've got chip manufacturing plants and very well educated and experienced engineers too.

      We (the West) should know this: We bloody well trained them!

  14. John 62

    worried about the enemy killing your flavour of GPS?

    There's no need to worry if they're building their own system, just piggy-back theirs, since they'll need it to do their own positioning.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The military signals on these system are encrypted, they cannot be used by foreign powers unless they happen to have broken the encryption scheme being used.

      1. Roger Stenning

        On the comms or the GPS? I'll agree that if they're including comms facilities on the GPS constellation, then likely as not it'll be intended for military use, and will therefore be encrypted somehow; they have, though, stated that the GPS element of the system will be free for all to use, thus intimating that, that, at least, will be UN-encrypted.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @AC 17:31

        You probably also know it would be quite a feat to break said encryption, not even really worthwhile unless there's a communications capability involved with this system. But even then, the Chinese are no slouches in Signals Intelligence and Cryptanalysis. NSA/CSS trained a whole lot of them during the latter parts of the cold war (There's a policy on both sides of deliberate ambiguity about it, but its a fairly open secret).

        China had alot of issues with Soviet client states breaking their encryption schemes at the KGB and GRU's behest, such as the Interception facilities the Soviet Navy ran at Nha Trang and Da Nang, as well as the GRU's facility in the Kuril Islands. The PLA have about 35 years of good experience with Cryptography and I dont think it would even really be worth the time to break their encrypted signal, unless as I said there is a communications capability, but if they're smart they'll certainly use a system like Strategic Command uses on the Defense Support Program sats. I dont know what's classified and what isnt about that system so much, so look it up on Wikipedia if you're interested.

        The CIA's SIGINT unit is widely rumored to assist the Third Department of the General Staff Department of the Central Military Commission (their Equivalent of NSA/CSS and GCHQ) with intercepting the Russians to this day. So we more than likely would already know how to deal with them if it came down to it because we more than likely know their methodologies.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The civilian signal will be unencrypted but the more accurate military signals are not. In times of war the civilian signals will be turned off or the accuracy drastically reduced. This is standard practice for all existing GPS systems, even GPS receiver manufacturers include a clause in their smallprint to the effect that they are not liable for the continuity or accuracy of positioning information in the event of conflict.

    This is all common knowledge, I'm sure wikipedia covers it in great detail so you can all about it there. The US and Europe have been quite open about this capability and their intentions to use it in the interests of national security if required.

  16. Jeff Minter

    Sarcastic bias in Chinese related articles

    Explain how "global coverage" equates to world domination??? It's hardly the first time something like this has happened either. There's an undercurrent of "oh noes the Chinese, they're a massive monolithic group intent on warping your brains", when in reality it is us who are doing precisely what we accuse. Maybe that's the aim...

  17. William saywell


    Now the drones will be able to cross-reference another system, to make it harder for hostile nations to spoof their positions.

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