China has switched on a new satellite navigation service similar to the US GPS and Russian GLONASS services called the Beidou Navigation System.
The current system is largely confined to coverage of China but with the launch of additional satellites in 2012, the middle kingdom hopes to increase accuracy and provide coverage cross the Asia-Pacific region.
A Xinhua news report said that their are plans to obtain global coverage by the year 2020. The Beidou system is named after the Big Dipper star constellation and currently consists of ten satellites.
The Beidou satellite navigation system is only the fourth such system in the world, after the American GPS system, Russia's GLONASS and Europe's Galileo.
It seems likely that one of the major driving forces behind the service is for military applications, so as to remove the reliance on foreign systems for military navigation.
The service is said to be compatible with the other satellite networks in a basic sense which could mean that Beidou gets added to consumer electronics in much the same way that Russia's GLASNOSS has been in order to increase accuracy and improve lock-on times.