China unveils own mapping service

Image caption,
The site has high resolution images of many Chinese cities

China has launched an official online mapping service called Map World.

The web-based service gives people access to increasingly detailed satellite images of China and high-level images of other nations.

The flat maps can be viewed in 3D if visitors download and install a browser plug-in to convert the images.

China said the service was still in development and would be updated regularly. It said it could currently handle about 10 million visits per day.

Map World has been created by China's State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping from satellite images collected over the last four years. It said the information depicted would be updated every six months.

Within the nation's borders, images have a 2.5m resolution in rural areas and can go down to 0.6m resolution in 300 cities. Beyond its borders, images have a 500m resolution and many nations are blank when users zoom in.

Mapping services are tightly restricted in China and any company wanting to offer them must obtain a licence. This imposes strict conditions on what they can show and where the servers hosting the service can be located.

The Mapping bureau said about 80 companies, including Nokia, had bought mapping licences. Google is not thought to be one of them.

When China announced plans for the map licence scheme the search giant said it would consider its options before deciding whether to sign up. Google does have maps of China on its services but they are not as detailed as in many other nations.

One stumbling block could be the widely publicised shift of Google's servers out of mainland China to avoid official oversight of what its users were doing.

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