China’s push to become a tech power
Once a week, on my lunch break, a new recruit and I head out for a drive.
This kid’s not from Melbourne. She moved down here for uni before she had the chance to get her licence.
Without her family around, it’s been tough for her to get the extra on-road experience she needs to be safe on the roads.
So, on Wednesdays, I do my best to remember all the things my ex-cop dad and ex-cop grandad taught me.
Never creep. Wait two seconds after a light turns green. It’s better to have a bad driver in front of you than behind you.
The sort of stuff you don’t think about once you get your licence, because it becomes intrinsic knowledge of driving.
But there’s one thing I’ll probably never teach this kid.
And that’s how to read a map…
You never question who owns the maps
Learning your way around the Melway — or the UBD, for other states — was a critical life skill back in the 90s.
I mean, if you couldn’t connect the grid references, you couldn’t get anywhere.
Yet map reading isn’t a life skill anymore. Just like knowing how to ride a horse or pluck a chicken. Technology has changed, and along with it so have the ‘must know’ life skills a person needs.
Instead of a parent teaching a new driver how to read a street directory, most of us have access to various iterations of satellite navigation. It could be through your phone or an in-car system.
Best of all, you get turn-by-turn driving instructions. Heck, Google Maps even tells you what lane you need to be in before the turn.
The detail and accuracy of these systems is incredible.
But have you ever questioned who actually owns these maps?
All the sat-nav brands differ slightly. Their own ‘augmentation’ setup enhances the accuracy of the data.
But they all get this data from the same place.
The US government.
Few people realise that the US Air Force operates the Global Positioning System (GPS) that the majority of the world uses.
And not everyone is happy about it.
Russia broke free…next is China
Russia was the first country to ditch the US-dominated system.
The end of the space race for both the US and Russia saw the two countries set about developing a satellite navigation system. The US-owned GPS system came first. However, Russia had 100% coverage by 2010 through its own GLONASS system.
This ended Russia’s reliance on the US system.
Many other countries are only just beginning to develop their own systems.
France and Japan have their own satellite navigation developments underway.
India has its regional areas covered with GAGAN. And its IRNSS positioning system for major cities is improving. However, the accuracy is fairly poor; within 10 metres of your true location.
This puts it well behind the accuracy of the US’s GPS, which has evolved from being accurate within five metres in 2000… to within 30 centimetres today.
This means that GPS is the most accurate navigation system in the world.
At least for now, anyway.
China’s BeiDou satellite navigation system is set to rival GPS. In fact, the Chinese government is aiming to improve the accuracy to 15 centimetres.
Perhaps the biggest difference between China’s system and the others coming from Russia and India, for example, is that China is pushing for people to use BeiDou.
And by 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping will have spent around US$9 billion to ensure it’s ‘globally’ available.
Everyone entering China will be tracked
It comes as no surprise that China wants to end its reliance on the US-owned GPS.
But what really matters is what it means for the rest of us going forward.
If you own a Samsung phone or wearable, it already has the capability of using the BeiDou network.
And microchip makers like Qualcomm Incorporated already ‘support’ the BeiDou navigation system.
In addition, Big Xi wants local Chinese cars to access a Chinese navigation system rather than the US one.
And as the largest auto market in the world, I suspect what China wants is what China will get.
The Chinese government is pushing for all Volkswagen vehicles to be capable of connecting to the BeiDou network. Plus, the government is also in talks with Toyota to make this happen.
Not only that, China has poorer countries like Pakistan and Laos using the BeiDou network instead of the GPS one.
Last year, the state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China became the first airline in the world to use the BeiDou network.
And it’s only a matter of time before major global airlines will be pushed into doing the same. Aircraft manufacturers like Airbus and Boeing will need to manufacture planes to cater to this demand.
Meaning that planes will likely have the capability to connect to two navigation systems.
Although it could be some years off yet. Commercial aircraft from order to delivery is often a five-year timeframe or longer.
The question isn’t if, though.
The fact remains that the Chinese government is pushing to become a dominant technology power, with the ultimate goal of not needing the US for anything.
China’s push to become a tech power
Why would China be doing this?
I suspect there are two reasons.
The most obvious is wanting to avoid being tracked by the US. The US and China are becoming ‘rivals’ through military and technology. You can’t sneak up on someone if they have the ability to track your every movement…
The second reason has to do with not being controlled by the US.
Relying on the US-owned GPS system means countries are at risk of being cut off from it.
As the US is the dominant tech power, all of our digital fates rest entirely on our ability to stay in America’s good books.
China knows this. And it craves its own power and dominance.
We’ve witnessed for years the US wielding its power over countries that displease it. Iran is the most recent one that springs to mind. The US regularly bans countries from the international payments system as a form of economic sanction.
Digital access would be no different.
Rather than preventing a country from buying and selling in the global marketplace, America has the ability to shut off its digital access.
It’s a risk China isn’t willing to take.