For decades, the United States has had a monopoly on positioning, navigation, and timing technology with its Global Positioning System (GPS), a military-powered satellite constellation that is now the backbone for location on billions of devices worldwide.
Because these technologies are not only the key to military maneuvers, but the foundation of modern economies, more and more governments around the world have been looking for ways to decouple from the use of the US-based system. Russia, Japan, India, the United Kingdom and the European Union have made every effort to develop alternatives to GPS or at least to expand the system with additional satellites for better coverage.
Few countries have made the investment that China has made in its GPS alternative Beidou (北斗). In twenty years, the country has spent billions of dollars and launched nearly three dozen satellites to create a completely separate positioning system. According to Chinese state mediaAlmost 70% of all Chinese handsets can process signals from Beidou satellites.
The last piece of the puzzle is now complete, as the last satellite in the Beidou constellation was put into orbit on Tuesday morning. according to the Volkszeitung.
This is just another indication of the continuing decoupling of the United States and China, in which relations have deteriorated due to differences in market access and human rights. The trade talks between the two countries have come to a standstill A senior adviser to the Trump administration called for it completely. The announcement of a pause in the reissue of H-1B visas is also meaningful as China is the source of the second largest number of petitions according to USCIS, the country’s immigration service.
While completing the current plan for Beidou Beijing offers new flexibility and resilience for this critical technology, positioning technologies are ultimately usually not controversial – additional satellites can provide all users with more redundancy, and many of these technologies have the potential to coordinate with each other and with them offer mobile phone manufacturers more flexibility.
Nevertheless, GPS spoofing and general hacking of location technologies remains a serious threat. Earlier this year, the Trump administration released a new regulation that would force government agencies to develop more robust tools to ensure GPS signals are protected from hacking.
Given how much global logistics and our daily lives are controlled by these technologies, further international cooperation appears necessary to protect these vital assets. Now that China has its own fully functional system, they have an incentive to protect their own infrastructure as much as the United States to continue providing GPS and more general positioning according to the highest reliability standards.