Expert Advice: The Challenge of BeiDou

May 1, 2013  - By 0 Comments
Mark Sampson

Mark Sampson

By Mark Sampson, Racelogic

GNSS is changing. The days of only American GPS satellites providing signals to the civilian population are gone as new constellations are launched. GLONASS was a slow starter, but is now well established, and its signal architecture is now commonly implemented in manufacturers’ chipsets. Galileo is still very much in test phase with global coverage planned for 2019, although position fix using only Galileo satellites has already been demonstrated. The Japanese QZSS system, designed to aid navigation in urban canyons, is partially operational with further launches announced for the near future.

The latest openly documented network to come online is BeiDou-2, or BDS. Formerly known as Compass, the Chinese constellation now provides signals to China and surrounding areas, but plans for global coverage should come to fruition by the end of the decade.

Full control over its own constellation gives a country military, socio-political, and commercial advantages, especially if additional functionality — such as search and rescue services — is introduced alongside the standard navigational broadcast. BDS is unique in its use of a combination of standard-orbit and geo-synchronous satellites, the latter giving it a wider range of signal designed to carry more information.

The populace stands to benefit from a wide variety of localized and global satellite coverage, but only if there are end-user products available that actually make use of the new signals. Any manufacturer wanting a share of the market in China, for instance, will need to get BeiDou-2 integrated into its chipsets quickly, especially if an import levy is placed upon devices that don’t support it (as nearly happened with GLONASS).

How do you go about implementing BDS support in your new GPS product if you’re based in Europe or America? The coverage isn’t global yet; you can’t just go out into the office car park to test, and how are you going to incorporate the signals from the three geostationary satellites without actually being underneath them? Moving to China isn’t very practical, so the solution is a GNSS record-and-replay device.

Manufacturers and other customers will want to seek out simulators from companies that have been highly proactive in ensuring their products provide full support for each constellation, even before they come fully online. The convenience in being able to test new designs, applications, and system integration with reliability and consistency can bring significant savings in development cost and time.

With 14 BDS satellites currently in operation, and the recent release of the Interface Specification, we find more and more companies in the marketplace have been asking for BeiDou functionality. An added benefit for existing users would be flexible hardware capable of taking a simple firmware upgrade in order to record and replay BeiDou as well as GPS and GLONASS.

Icing on the system-testing cake would be a hard drive containing pre-recorded scenarios from China and Europe, with good BDS visibility, so that bench testing can commence immediately. Given that such a device can record raw signals, live recordings can be taken in Asia and then transferred to test facilities around the world.


Mark Sampson is Racelogic’s LabSat product manager. He has more than 15 years of experience in the development of GNSS technology. Working closely with leading businesses such as Bosch, Intel, Samsung, and Telefonica, he provides knowledge and expertise in testing any GNSS device, application, or integration.

GPS World staff

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