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

The whole of 1.2-million-square-kilometer Tibet and everything on its rugged, mountainous plateau are now covered by the BeiDou constellation of navigation satellites, according to Chinese state media.

Xinhua reported on Monday that civil and military users in Tibet, China’s second-largest region by area after Xinjiang, could start switching to BeiDou signals. No longer are the vast swaths of unpopulated region absent of navigational infrastructure.

A BeiDou-supported information platform made a debut in the Tibetan capital Lhasa as one of the 18 key nodes of data transmission, processing and control of the system.

Tibet occupies about one-eighth of China’s landmass, despite playing host to only 3.17 million people. BeiDou meets urgent needs in a range of applications from disaster relief to guiding warplanes.

A BeiDou technician uses a device to test navigation signals in Tibet. Photo: Handout

China kickstarted a program back in 2015 to expand precision positioning coverage to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau as a part of efforts to create a nationwide base-station network for high-precision navigation by 2018.

Infrastructure is critical to navigation and includes base-station networks, data processing, broadcasting systems and user terminals, which together help provide more precision services.

BeiDou, the Chinese equivalent of the Global Positioning System (GPS) and Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System, now boasts 38 satellites in orbit as of September.

The system is sharply improving navigation accuracy at home and expanding its coverage beyond the Chinese border, in particular along the Belt and Road countries in Southeast Asia and South Asia.

The system has provided precision positioning, turn-by-turn real-time navigation, location reporting, precise timekeeping and short message services for users in China and the Asia-Pacific region since the end of 2012.

India Today reported in March that China was also using its BeiDou system near Brutse, in Aksai Chin, a disputed border area between China and India that also straddles Tibet and Xinjiang. The paper said Chinese satellites kept a close watch on Indian security forces along New Delhi’s Line of Actual Control there.

Other reports also suggest that the Z-20, the Chinese air force’s versatile medium-lift, multi-role helicopter series rumored to beef up the emergency response of Chinese airmen stationed in Tibet, will also use the BeiDou system for missions in the region.

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