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India is reportedly applying pressure on phone-makers to integrate its home-grown navigation system called NavIC, a move that may increase costs for manufacturers. Mint explains why the government wants NavIC implemented, and why this is a sensible move.

What is NavIC and why does India need it?

Navigation apps and mobiles in India  typically  use  Global Positioning System (GPS), owned by the US government and operated by the US Air Force. According to a Reuters report, India wants to reduce its dependence on such technology from foreign countries. The use of GPS could be prevented due to geopolitics. In 1999, the US refused an Indian request for GPS data to track Pakistani troops in Kargil. Ever since, Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) has been working on Navigation with Indian Constellation, or NavIC. China, the EU, Japan and Russia already have their own navigation systems.

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What are the other uses of NavIC?

NavIC is used to track public vehicles and alert fishermen. The app, jointly developed by Isro, Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (Incois) and MapmyIndia, alerts fishermen who venture into deep seas about their location and distance from the international maritime boun-dary. MapmyIndia also builds and sells various NavIC-enabled internet of things devices. NavIC’s applications can extend to disaster management, vehicle tracking and fleet management, as a navigation assistant to hikers and travellers, and navigation for drivers, claims Isro. For instance, toll systems could become NavIC-based.

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How does NavIC compare to GPS systems?

NavIC uses eight satellites and is said to be accurate up to 5-10 metres on land against 20-30 metres for GPS. It covers India and a region extending up to 1,500 km beyond the Indian mainland. NavIC is recognized by the International Maritime Organization as part of the World-Wide Radio Navigation System, enabling its use in areas like maritime navigation.

What about phones that support NavIC?

Most smartphone makers rely on chip suppliers such as Qualcomm and MediaTek to add GPS or NavIC support to their system-on-chips (SoC). In 2020, Qualcomm launched chipsets such as Snap-dragon 720G, 662 and 460 that supported NavIC alongside GPS. Qualcomm also added NavIC support to its flagship Snapdragon 865. Xiaomi and Realme were among the first to launch phones based on these chipsets. Media-Tek’s Dimensity 900 series supp-orts NavIC and is used in several phones from Xiaomi and Oppo.

Why is NavIC phone rollout taking time?

Making all new smartphones NavIC-ready can be challenging for handset makers since most of them do their product planning at least a year in advance, including phone components. Enabling NaviC on all smartphones at short notice risks disrupting those plans and upsetting the supply chain. There’s another reason —navigation signals are currently broadcast from NavIC satellites in the L5 and S bands. Most mobile SoCs, however, support the L1 band. This can be addressed with a software update, say experts.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Leslie D'Monte

Leslie D'Monte has been a journalist for almost three decades. He specialises in technology and science writing, having worked with leading media groups--both as a reporter and an editor. He is passionate about digital transformation and deep-tech topics including artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, crypto, metaverses, quantum computing, genetics, fintech, electric vehicles, solar power and autonomous vehicles. Leslie is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Knight Science Journalism Fellow (2010-11). In his other avatar, he curates tech events and moderates panels.
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