China’s new satellite navigation system is completely operational now, say officials inside the BeiDou program, as the last satellite in the system has been tested and entered service.

The BD-3 satellite navigation system is similar to existing sat-nav networks already in existence, but allows China independence from those networks. Before China got the BD-3 system operational, satellite navigation ran from signals through the US-owned GPS satellite system, the Russia-owned GLONASS network or the European Galileo satellite network. Now, China’s able to go it alone.

The first Chinese satellite network (BD-1) only had three satellites, and went offline in 2000. The next (BD-2) has been operating 10 satellites with service in the Asia-Pacific region since 2012. The new, third network that’s just come online supposedly has 99 percent coverage of the entire globe.

China launched the last satellite for the latest network in June (the 55th satellite in the BD-3 network), and says it’s just finished its testing. According to New Atlas, there’s a public service available through the satellite network, as well as a military service which delivers greater accuracy. Supposedly, the public service has average positioning accuracy of 2.34 metres (7.7 feet), but in some areas (China, particularly) it’s possible it may reach accuracy within millimetres. New Atlas says testing shows velocity measurement down to 0.2 m/s, and timing accuracy past 20 nanoseconds.

The Chinese and Pakistani armies use military-level functioning, which is supposedly far more precise, with 10-centimetre (4-inch) accuracy.

For adventure riders and other consumers, what’s the big deal? First off, made-in-China smartphones are available with the BeiDou chipset built-in now, meaning we’re going to have access to this updated sat-nav system in years to come. No doubt its function will improve as years go by, and it’s always good to have options.

Second, the BeiDou system also has the capability for two-way communication. It’s limited for now, and you’ve got to own the proper equipment to use it, but—as with all technology, this capability will improve, and trickle down from expensive, limited availability to the consumer level. Could that mean increased competition for the Garmin inReach? Sooner or later, the answer is probably yes.

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