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What Is NavIC? Why India Wants Apple, Samsung, Others To Make Changes In Their Smartphones

Apple, Samsung, and Xiaomi among other smartphone makers have been asked to include support for India’s NavIC navigation system in the new devices these companies will sell from next year.

So far, GPS or Global Positioning System, owned by the US government, has been one of the most popular satellite-based navigation systems in India and the world.

However, India is now trying to push its own navigation system to reduce reliance on GPS and other systems.

Meanwhile, Apple, Samsung, and other smartphone makers seem to be worried about this due to “additional costs” and “tight deadline”.

What is NavIC

NavIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation) is designed to provide “more accurate domestic navigation” for users in India.

NavIC was approved in 2006, but it went into full operations in 2018 with seven satellites covering the entire territory of India. NavIC has three Geostationary satellites and four geosynchronous satellites situated in much higher orbits.

NavIC satellites provide dual frequency bands (L5-band and S-band), which is why the system is relatively more accurate than GPS. The NavIC System is expected to provide a position accuracy of better than 20 metre in the primary service area.

Why India Is Pushing Smartphone Makers To Support NavIC?

India has been aggressively promoting NavIC to make it a mainstream service at par with GPS. NavIC was developed partly because access to foreign government-controlled global navigation satellite systems is not guaranteed in hostile situations and India wants to reduce its dependence on foreign systems like GPS (which is owned by the US) by creating its own technologies.

India wants to expand NavIC coverage globally and it wants tech companies to make their devices compatible with the new standard before then.

In July, the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), along with ISRO, launched the NavIC Grand Challenge for Indian startups. The challenge was aimed at promoting the adoption of NavIC as a geo-positioning solution.

What Are The Concerns Of Smartphone Makers?

The smartphone makers, including Apple, Xiaomi, and Samsung reportedly fear enabling NavIC support in their devices would increase production costs significantly.

Besides, the January 2023 deadline seems too strict for the companies as they claim implementing such technology would require “more testing clearances.”

Moreover, supporting NavIC requires new chipsets and other hardware changes, and most companies are “already prepared for models to be launched in 2024.” Citing a Samsung executive, a Reuters report said implementing NavIC on smartphones would not be feasible until 2025.

Another concern of tech companies is related to the frequency on which the NavIC system operates. Right now, the Indian government relies on the L5 satellite frequency, which is much less common for smartphones (Apple now supports L5 with iPhone 14 Pro and Apple Watch Ultra). The companies are trying to convince India to use the L1 frequency, the same as the GPS frequency.

Several smartphones, including iPhone, already support GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, and BeiDou. However, these systems were launched long before NavIC, and it took some time for smartphone makers to enable support for these systems in their devices.

NavIC vs GPS

With seven satellites, NavIC is considered to be at par with GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo. The GPS needs nearly 24 operational satellites and has 31 satellites in orbit. All 55 satellites are geosynchronous satellites, which means that they do not remain stationary in space regarding the revolving earth.

Navic has 3 geostationary satellites and 4 geosynchronous satellites which are placed in much higher orbits due to which the signal is less prone to obstructions.

The GPS uses a single frequency band while the NavIC satellites use dual frequency bands (L5-band and S-band), which is why the system is relatively more accurate than GPS.

NavIC is designed to provide an absolute position accuracy of fewer than 10 meters on the Indian landmass and less than 20 meters on the Indian Ocean.

The accuracy of the Standard Positioning Service is 20 meters for both GPS and NavIC. However, the location accuracy of NavIC might see a drastic improvement in urban locations where geolocation accuracy tends to degrade.

How Government Is Pushing NavIC Adoption

NavIC is already being used in public vehicle tracking systems in India since it offers it allows enforcement agencies to monitor vehicles, which is not possible with international systems like GPS.

In April 2019, the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways made NavIC-based vehicle trackers mandatory for all commercial vehicles in the country. In August 2021, DGCA updated the drone rules for India under which it became mandatory to use made-in-India technologies, including NavIC.

A new draft policy in India seeks to foster global use of its NavIC satellite navigation system. The draft Indian Satellite Navigation Policy 2021 (SATNAV Policy 2021) is part of the reforms of ISRO.

Chipsets Supporting India’s NavIC Navigation System

The number of NavIC-enabled smart mobile phone models has increased in the Indian market. Qualcomm has launched several NavIC-compatible chipsets including Snapdragon 865, Snapdragon 765, and a few others.

Qualcomm this month announced two new Snapdragon SoCs – Snapdragon 6 Gen 1 and Snapdragon 4 Gen 1– for mid-range and budget phones. Both the chips support BeiDou, Galileo, GLONASS, NavIC, GPS, and QZSS along with dual frequency (L1+L2) support.

Why Some Countries Are Looking Beyond GPS?

GPS is used in several countries to accurately track and monitor the navigation route and location but some countries are exploring, testing, and deploying satellites to build their positioning capabilities.

For example, Russia has made GLONASS (Globalnaya Navigazionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema, or Global Navigation Satellite System) fully operational.

European Union started implementing the Galileo system in 2016 and plans to complete the system of nearly 24 satellites soon. China has BeiDou, or BDS which was formally commissioned in 2020 while Japan declared the official start of QZSS (Quasi-Zenith Satellite System) services in 2018 with four operational satellites.

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