The Government of India has passed a mandate stating - all smartphone manufacturers, including the likes of Samsung, Apple, Xiaomi, OnePlus and more - will have to enable NavIC in all of their smartphones to be sold in India, starting January 1, 2023. For those who don't know, NavIC is India's homegrown navigation system developed by Indian Research Space Organization (ISRO) for military and commercial purposes.
This begs the question, why is the Government pushing for such a move now? Also, what consequences can these phone brands face given that many launches might already be planned?
Update: The Ministry of Electronics and IT has given a statement that says, as of now, no timeline has been fixed for making NavIC mandatory starting January 1, 2023. The issue is being currently discussed with the stakeholders.
NavIC is India's satellite system designed by ISRO. Work on it started in 2006. The approved budget was $174 million at the time, with an expected completion time in 2011. However, NavIC finally became operational in 2018. So, that was a brief history on NavIC, but, how does it work and what does it bring to the table over its competitors, such as GPS, GLONASS etc?
In simple words, India has deployed 8 satellites in the sky covering the whole Indian landmass, and up to 1,500 km from its boundaries. Now, all these satellites covering the entire Indian landmass make sure that position accuracy is superior to GPS or GLONASS, and the claims are less than 10 meters in its primary service area. The reason I believe these accuracy claims is because of the presence of dual frequency bands, i.e. L5-Band and S-Band.
Also, in a layman's language, I would like to tell you, that while NavIC does promise to offer better accuracy than GPS, courtesy of the dual frequency bands, you should know that GPS is an international navigation system, which relies on 31 satellites that circle the earth twice a day. While NaVIC, in its current form (at least), relies only on 7 satellites that cover India and its adjacent areas.
The main difference is the serviceable area covered by these systems. GPS caters to users across the globe and its satellites circle the earth twice a day, while NavIC is currently for use in India and adjacent areas.
The Government has made it mandatory for smartphone makers to include NavIC on all smartphones to be released starting in 2023. But, did you know, there are already a lot of phones that feature NavIC? In fact, about 300 phones that are currently sold in India feature NavIC, while the Realme X50 Pro was the first phone to feature NavIC, back in February 2020.
Now, the main reason that I believe the Government of India will make NavIC mandatory for smartphones in India is that one, it fits our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi's vision of "Atmanirbhar Bharat". And the second is, that as good as the foreign navigation systems are, the government feels that our country shouldn't be reliant on them, because, at the end of the day, foreign navigation systems are operated by defence agencies of respective nations. So, there's always a chance that civilian services could be degraded or denied, if a situation arises, something which shouldn't be in the case of NavIC, as it is totally controlled by India.
This brings us to the smartphone makers and their concerns about bringing NavIC onto their smartphones on short notice. Well, not exactly short notice, since the Government of India has been pushing for this for a long time. However, this time around, the mandate comes with a deadline. Sources in the industry have claimed that the Indian Government has already held private meetings with a few smartphone manufacturers to push them for NavIC's implementation in their smartphones. Again, not an unreasonable move on the part of the Government of India, but people in the system will also need to understand that a drastic implementation of things that might or might not already be underway, isn't a piece of cake, at least according to the smartphone makers.
To let you know, smartphone makers have argued that apart from a phone's processor, many other components are required for NavIC to work on a smartphone. But, then again, there are a few select chipsets in the market that already come with NavIC support, including this year's top-of-the-line, Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 SoC. So, while I am not really sure whether flagship phones, powered by top-of-the-line chipsets, will get more costly because of the NavIC inclusion. One thing I am definitely sure about is that, with this move, the budget and mid-range segments are definitely expected to see a price-bump, because those dual-band chipsets won't come cheap. But since having NavIC on phones will be mandatory starting January 2023, I want to see how these smartphone makers handle the pricing of devices in the budget segment or even the sub-20K INR price segment.
The end goal is very simple. The Government of India wants to minimize and, after a point, totally remove the dependence of our country on foreign satellite systems for navigation. In fact, the end goal is to expand NavIC into becoming a standard global system for navigation that can compete with the likes of GPS and GLONASS. At the moment, NavIC is only being used for services such as public vehicle tracking, or for providing emergency alerts in areas with no terrestrial network connectivity, like in a sea and basically many other tasks. Now, the next goal is to make NavIC commercially available to the general public. We'll see where it goes, as the new year is not very far away.
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