China's BeiDou satellite navigational system. Photo: Xinhua
China's BeiDou satellite navigational system. Photo: Xinhua

Beijing and Washington have signed a deal which could improve GPS services worldwide for consumers. The agreement appears to have been hammered out earlier this month after years of talks between experts in the United States and China in global navigation satellite systems or GNSS.

It involves making the US Global Positioning System (GPS) and BeiDou (BDS), China’s own version, compatible at user level, according to the US Department of State. This will improve services for BeiDou users.

“GPS and BDS are radio frequency compatible under the framework of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and that civil signals of the two systems, though using two different types of waveforms, are interoperable,” a statement issued by the US Department of State’s Office of Space and Advanced Technology and China Satellite Navigation Office read.

The signed agreement, in both English and Chinese, concerning BeiDou and GPS’ signal compatibility and interoperability. Photo: Handout

Hopefully, users of devises such as smatphones, tablets and PCs will receive improved services as the two systems will work simultaneously, without a significant increase in receiver costs.

“It is like subscribers of one telecom company now using a competing carrier and roaming between the two networks at no extra cost,” one BeiDou expert said.

Precise positioning in any part of the world relies on signals from no less than four satellites to pinpoint the exact location.

China is in the process of expanding its BeiDou system to improve poor reception in certain parts of the world. It now plans to have 35 satellites in place by 2020 to cope with “dead zones” outside the Asia Pacific region.

A model of China's Beidou satellite navigation system is on display during an exhibition in Beijing, China, 7 June 2016.
A model of China’s Beidou satellite navigation system is on display during an exhibition in Beijing, China, 7 June 2016.

The signal-sharing deal between Washington and Beijing will help plug that gap and expand BeiDou’s “bandwidth”.

Frequencies for satellite navigation are confined within the L Band and are allocated by the ITU on a first-come, first-served basis. GPS, which pioneered the system, naturally grabbed most of the frequencies, leaving the rest, such as BeiDou, with limted “bandwidth”.

Under ITU regulations, the first system to start broadcasting on a specific frequency has priority. Any subsequent users will be required to obtain permission to use that frequency.

They will also have to ensure that their broadcasts do not interfere with the original signal. GPS will now share some frequencies with BeiDou.

In another major development, Beijing is in talks with Moscow to roll out a similar deal between BeiDou and GLONASS.

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