India wants NavIC navigation compatible with smartphones
India is encouraging smartphone manufacturers on the subcontinent to adopt its home-grown navigation system, Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC), also called the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), in their future devices – a move that is being met with some consternation by the biggest handset makers.
NavIC is reputedly a comparable service with foreign navigation systems like the US’ GPS mode, Glonass from Russia, and Galileo, which is developed in Europe. As with many financially inclusive applications being developed in India, it is believed that NavIC will deliver navigation services to the underserved and completely unserved communities, helping positively determine positioning and time accurately by a satellite system developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), and covering India as well as regions extending as far as 1500 km from its boundary.
Working in conjunction with the IRNSS are the Standard Positioning Service (SPS) and Restricted Service (RS). The term “NavIC” was coined by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to help offer terrestrial and marine navigation, vehicle tracking and fleet management, and disaster management facilities. Originally approved in 2006 and in working condition since 2018, NavIC was also conceived to give real-time directional assistance both to vehicle users as well as those on foot – the service can also help guide hikers and travellers, and provide voice and visual navigation for drivers.
With an array of eight satellites at an altitude of about 36,000 km, NavIC has already been pressed into service to enable the live tracking of vehicles in Indian urban areas and to warn deep sea fishermen with emergency alerts, where there is no terrestrial network connectivity. The tracking system has also been used to detect and relay vital information in natural disaster-prone areas.
Now the Indian government wants to expand NavIC’s reach by pushing mobile device makers to make their devices compatible with the Indian navigation service. But the likes of Samsung, Xiaomi and Apple have their own concerns, mostly linked with the associated costs of developing for a previously-unrecognized navigation standard, and the likely service interruptions that might arise due to the differing hardware requirements, according to two industry sources and government documents seen by Reuters.
The Indian government proclaimed last month that NavIC is “as good as GPS of the United States in terms of position accuracy” and is intent on taking its coverage global. India states that as systems like GPS and Glonass are operated by the defence agencies of their respective nations, the civilian services of other countries would take a back seat to national interests.
This sort of thinking fuelled the rationale to develop NavIC as “an indigenous positioning system that is under Indian control. There is no risk of the service being withdrawn or denied in a given situation,” according to a press statement released in 2021.
Aiming to do away with the reliance on foreign-controlled satellite systems altogether for the purposes of navigational geo-location, the federal government is now pushing its ministries to make use of NavIC and its affiliated applications – and to encourage local industries, particularly those in “strategic sectors”, to develop their own native NavIC-based solutions.
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