China's independent Beidou satellite navigation system has been operating since 2000, but consisting of just three satellites (and one backup), that first generation system offered only limited coverage to customers in China and neighboring regions. Now, to end any reliance on the US-maintained Global Positioning System (GPS), the second generation of the Beidou system has begun operations. The system currently consists of 10 satellites and covers the Asia-Pacific region, with the number of satellites set to gradually increase to a total of 35 that will cover the entire globe by 2020.

According to China Daily, the Beidou system is currently operating as a free trial and offers positioning accuracy to within 25 m (82 ft). But this is set to improve to an accuracy of within 10 m (33 ft) next year when six more satellites are put into orbit and the system is officially launched for Asia-Pacific customers.

While the GPS system provides location and time information anywhere on or near Earth, Ran Chengqi, director of the China Satellite Navigation Office told China Daily that the Beidou system "not only tells users where they are and what time it is but also allows users to tell others the information through short messages." However, it's unclear whether that capability will be made available to civilians through the free service, or whether it will be limited to the licensed service that will also offer greater accuracy for the Chinese government and military users

The GPS system became fully operational in 1994, but being run by the U.S. government, many countries were concerned that the U.S. could gain a significant advantage in times of conflict by disabling the system. In response to this perceived threat, Russia developed its GLONASS system, whose full constellation of 24 satellites were restored in October of this year, while the European Union's Galileo system is expected to be completed by 2019. Japan and India have also signaled their intention to build independent regional satellite navigation systems.

Source: China Daily