Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies has launched a new smartphone, the Mate 50. It will be able to connect directly to navigation satellites from BeiDou, the Chinese counterpart of the GPS system.
The smartphone will allow users to send short messages through the system. In this way, the company wants to circumvent American restrictions on the use of its 5G technology. It is the first smartphone maker ever to bring such a system to the market. In doing so, it beats competitors like Apple, who are working on similar technologies.
The United States (US) has imposed increasing restrictions on Huawei since 2018. American companies are no longer allowed to do business with the company and foreign companies are also no longer allowed to use American technology to produce components for Huawei. As a result, the company does not have access to the latest 5G chips, putting it at a disadvantage compared to competitors such as Apple and Xiaomi.
The BeiDou network is the new challenger to the globally renowned GPS system, developed by the US, and Galileo, its European counterpart. Unlike the competition, which have long provided global coverage, BeiDou used to use satellites in geostationary orbit, so they are always above the same place on Earth.
As a result, the network could only be used above China and surrounding Asian countries. However, the latest generation of satellites solves that problem, making BeiDou available worldwide in recent years. As a result, the network is now ready to be exploited for commercial purposes, also outside Asia.
New front in the tech war
Jeff Pu, an analyst at Hong Kong investment bank Haiton International, told the Japanese business publication Nikkei Asia that Huawei’s move could open a new front for the commercial use of satellite technology in electronic devices. This would allow China to lead the way, as only Chinese manufacturers are currently allowed to develop chips that can be connected to BeiDou.
“It’s a case unique to Chinese companies,” Pu said. However, that does not mean that satellite internet will soon replace 5G. It will only serve as a supplement for customers who are located in areas where there are no other connections. After all, using the feature could still be very expensive and consume a lot of battery power.