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Map Compilation for China: Challenges and Ways to Overcome Them

Learn about the main hurdles when compiling maps for China and surefire ways to overcome them

June 19, 2020

5 mins read

We’ve all had that unforgettable experience when our GPS navigation app gave us the wrong directions. But when it comes to in-car navigation systems, the consequences can be more dramatic than getting lost. Since a map is the heart of any navigation system, car safety and map accuracy are closely related. This particularly applies to autonomous driving, where every centimiter is critical. Whether you’re a vehicle manufacturer, delivery service provider, fleet management company, taxi company, or any other business where precise mapping plays a significant role, you know that achieving this level of accuracy is a big challenge — especially if you’re looking to enter the Chinese market.

Challenges of compiling maps for China and ways to overcome them

Map Compilation for China: Challenges and Ways to Overcome Them

With a billion potential buyers, China is a lucrative option for any savvy OEM to expand their business. Yet entering the Chinese market is no easy task, especially for a location-based services provider. Below are the key challenges you should be ready to face when compiling maps of China for GPS car tracking systems or other purposes.

Limitations for foreign companies

For the sake of national security, private surveying and mapping activities are prohibited in Mainland China. The use of geographic information is restricted to entities that obtain special authorization from the administrative department for surveying and mapping. Notably, mapping licenses cannot be issued to foreign location-based service providers. So far, only a dozen companies are eligible to carry out mapping activities in China. Foreign enterprises must form a joint venture with one of these companies in order to enter the Chinese market.

Our solution. To comply with Chinese regulations, we worked closely with our client’s partner — a Chinese map provider whom we educated on how to use our map compilation software.

China’s GPS offset problem

Have you ever wondered why Google Maps and other non-Chinese location-based services show incorrect data in China? China’s GPS offset problem is to blame.

While GPS coordinates are expressed using the WGS-84 standard, China follows the GCJ-02 geodetic system (also known as Mars Coordinates). This system was formulated by the Chinese State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping for national security purposes. Despite being based on WGS-84, GCJ-02 utilizes a secret algorithm that adds random offsets to WGS-84 coordinates. When WGS-84-based GPS coordinates are applied to GCJ-02-based street maps, a GPS offset problem occurs, resulting in a 100- to 700-meter discrepancy.

While it’s prohibited to convert GCJ-02 into WGS-84, the State Bureau requires authorized providers of location-based services to integrate the Chinese Shifting Module (CMS) — a “shift correction” algorithm — into their software, enabling correct plotting of GPS data on Chinese maps.

Map Compilation for China: Challenges and Ways to Overcome Them

The procedure for CMS approval and integration is as follows:

  1. An applicant submits an application for CMS integration to the National Administration of Surveying, Mapping, and Geoinformation (NASG).
  2. NASG approves the application and informs the Chinese Academy of Surveying and Mapping (CASM) of the approval.
  3. The applicant submits the technical solution document to CASM.
  4. CASM accepts the technical solution.
  5. The applicant and CASM make an appointment for the exact time of CMS integration.
  6. The applicant goes to the CASM website for CMS integration.
  7. CASM delivers the CMS integration to the applicant.

Our solution.Our experts successfully integrated the Chinese Shifting Module into our client’s product according to the instructions.

  1. First, we submitted all the required documentation.
  2. After receiving approval from the Chinese government, we proceeded to the Chinese Academy of Surveying and Mapping website and completed the CMS integration.

Local cloud solutions

Global services like Google and Facebook must be replaced by their local counterparts in China, and AWS global is no exception. Finding a Chinese substitute is also critical in terms of performance. Since the Great Firewall slows down traffic, a local cloud solution will ensure an uninterrupted internet presence.

Luckily, there are plenty of decent local players to choose from, ranging from Alibaba Cloud — which holds 42% of the public cloud marketplace — to AWS China, which works differently than AWS global and doesn’t support some features.

Our solution.We adapted our map compilation pipeline for the Chinese environment using local cloud solutions.

Censorship

It’s no secret that any content produced for consumption in China is controlled by the Chinese government. All maps of China should be approved by the State Bureau for Surveying and Mapping before their distribution. The review process is long, complicated, and costly. Though the bureau states that it normally takes no more than 20 days, it can in fact take  more than a year.

Getting past the censors is especially painful for location-based service providers. Since the Chinese government is fastidious about its territorial claims, not including Taiwan or drawing the nine-dash line for China’s disputed claim in the South China Sea may result in your product being banned from distribution.

Our solution. The international map view was adapted for Chinese requirements. Based on feedback from the Chinese government, we successfully fixed all issues.

Learn how Intellias developed web maps for client-side visualization

How should OEMs act?

To those who are approaching the Chinese market for the first time, these challenges may seem overwhelming. Hiring a reliable navigation software development vendor who has experience working with the Chinese market is a safe bet in this case. Consider Intellias, for instance.

On the one hand, we know the ins and outs of building GPS car tracking systems and provide cutting-edge navigation solutions for connected cars and driverless vehicles. Maps delivered by Intellias offer a seamless user experience that minimizes distraction from the road, centimeter-level accuracy, and alignment with the Navigational Data Standard (NDS) to ensure safety. On the other hand, having successfully completed a project for the Chinese market, we know all the legal hurdles from A to Z and ways to overcome them in a timely manner.

Learn how Intellias contributed to a highly responsive rendering service for navigation

Conclusion

Limitations on foreign companies, different navigation standards, local cloud solutions, strict censorship, and the time-consuming review process might seem unnerving. Many OEMs give up on the idea of entering the Chinese market and reaping the endless opportunities it offers.

The problem, however, lies not in these restrictions but in a lack of experience working in the Chinese market. You can certainly embark on a risky trial-and-error path and gain this experience yourself. But hiring an experienced navigation software development vendor like Intellias is a safe way to successfully overcome all these legal hurdles while receiving a reliable and user-friendly product.


For those interested in expanding to the Chinese market, it’s critical to find a reliable software development partner with relevant experience. Contact us to take advantage of our broad expertise and years of experience.

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