China's BeiDou Navigation Satellite System serves the world
Edited by Chen Ran

Editor's note: In this episode of "Come Together," CGTN looks at China's BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) going global in 2018, another scientific breakthrough that highlights the country's development as it celebrates the 70th anniversary of its founding. 

"Currently, the positioning accuracy of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) has reached 2.6 meters in the Asia-Pacific region and 3.6 meters globally," said Yang Changfeng, chief designer of the BDS. "In the future, it will be embedded in mobile phones to achieve centimeter-level positioning accuracy. We promise that our service is open to the whole world."

"At present, the BDS is the only navigation satellite system that features both navigation and communication. This dual function enables the BDS to provide a wider range of services in broader scenarios," echoed Nie Xin, chief designer of the BeiDou-3 navigation satellite.

According to Nie, the BDS is one of the four space-based navigation networks operating globally. By September 2019, the BDS accessory rapid-positioning system independently developed by China has served over 300 million Chinese mobile phone users to achieve sub-meter location accuracy.

With 5G technology now in commercial use, the "5G+BDS" combo will be widely applied in scenarios that require fast data transmission speed, low network latency and precise location and navigation services. For example, the BDS can be installed on driverless tractors for high-accuracy sowing to maximize farmland utilization and increase crop yields. It can achieve lane-level navigation, providing live updates of logistics information.

More importantly, a short message communication service is a unique function of the BDS. If the ground communication signal is interrupted, the BDS short message service can still function efficiently. It has now been widely used in international rescue operations.

Chen Suzhen demonstrates the BDS short message communication service. /CGTN Photo

Chen Suzhen demonstrates the BDS short message communication service. /CGTN Photo

"It can be of great advantage in earthquakes, when ground signals are completely cut off," Chen Suzhen, head of the Blue Sky Rescue Team in Xiamen, told CGTN.

On April 25, 2015, an 8.1-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, causing a complete outage of water, electricity and mobile signals. Lack of proper communication among international rescue teams created major obstacles in relief operations. Chen and her teammates were sent to the scene for international joint rescue operations.

"Rescue teams from different countries all gathered in Kathmandu and it seemed that there were more rescue workers than needed," Chen recalled. "Luckily, our team had BDS equipment. With the short message service, I suggested to the rescue relief headquarters that we could go to the remote areas where the situation was far worse."

One night, Chen's emergency light ran out of battery, so she needed to borrow a spare one from a colleague in another team. As there was no signal on her phone, Chen contacted her colleague through the BDS and he brought her a new battery shortly afterward. "The BDS helped us a lot during the rescue. If every country uses the BDS, our future rescue operations will be far more efficient," Chen told CGTN.

"An ordinary navigation system could only detect my location, but the BDS short message service can also send my location (and message) out. In other words, BDS not only knows where I am, it can also share my location (and information) with others," Nie explained.   

What is more, the BDS has a hybrid constellation consisting of satellites operating in three kinds of orbits. Compared with other navigation satellite systems, the BDS operates more satellites in high orbits to offer better anti-shielding capabilities. It also provides navigation signals on multiple frequencies to improve service accuracy by using combined multi-frequency signals. 

Now, the BDS has become extremely versatile and can be applied in various sectors, including telecommunications, electric power transmission and distribution, disaster prevention and relief, emergency response and rescue, forest fire prevention, transportation, marine fishery, hydrological monitoring and precision agriculture. BDS-based products are sold to more than 100 countries and regions.

"The BDS is open to the whole world and is compatible with other navigation systems. It will surely benefit people from all over the world," Nie told CGTN.