As Apple supports NavIC Technology, Centre considers making tech mandatory, offering additional incentives

  • After convincing Apple to support navigation technology NavIC in some new iPhone 15 models, the Union government may mandate manufacturers to embed the homegrown GPS alternative in all smartphones sold in India by 2025.
  • As per the Minister of Electronics and Information Technology, all 5G phones would be required to support NavIC by January 1, 2025, and other phones by December 2025.

NavIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation)

Image of NavIC Satellite System: "NavIC Satellite System"

  • Additionally recognized by its acronym IRNSS (Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System).
  • ISRO, or the Indian Space Research Organization, is the organization responsible for developing this indigenous independent stand-alone navigation satellite system.
  • Approved in 2006 (at a cost of $174 million) and became operational in 2018.
  • NavIC, which is comprised of seven satellites and can cover the entirety of India’s landmass as well as up to 1,500 kilometers beyond its borders, was conceived with the intention of weaning India off of its reliance on satellite navigation systems provided by other countries, particularly for “strategic sectors.”
  • Currently, NavIC’s application in India is limited in –
    • Tracking of public vehicles, with the purpose of issuing urgent alerts of danger to fishermen who venture out into the deep sea, where there is no terrestrial network connectivity and where there is also no cell service.
    • For tracking and providing information related to natural disasters.
  • According to the draft of India’s satellite navigation policy for the year 2021, the Indian government plans to work toward “expanding the coverage from regional to global.”

Satellite Navigation Systems (key points)

Advantage of a Regional Navigation System

  • India is the only country that has a regional satellite-based navigation system.
  • Global satellite-based navigation systems – American GPS, the Russian GLONASS, the European Galileo, and the Chinese Beidou.
  • Japan has a four-satellite system that can augment GPS signals over the country, similar to India’s GAGAN (GPS Aided GEO Augmented Navigation).
  • With fully operational NavIC (with ground stations outside India [Japan, France, and Russia] for better triangulation of signals) open signals will be accurate up to 5m and restricted signals will be more accurate (GPS ~20m).
  • Unlike GPS, NavIC uses satellites in high geo-stationery orbit – the satellites move at a constant speed relative to Earth, so they are always looking over the same region on Earth.
  • NavIC signals come to India at a 90-degree angle, making it easier for them to reach devices located even in congested areas, dense forests, or mountains.

Old vs New (2nd-Generation) Satellites of NavIC

  • Total 7 satellites currently in the IRNSS
  • Launched through lighter Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).
  • The last IRNSS satellite, IRNSS-1I was launched in 2018 to replace an older, partially defunct satellite in the constellation.
    • ISRO’s 9th satellite for the NavIC constellation.
    • However, it is considered to be the 8th because the IRNSS-1H launched in 2017 was lost after the heat shield of the payload failed to open on time.
  • The 2nd-generation satellite named as NVS-01 (launched in May 2023), the first of ISRO’s NVS series of payloads, is heavier.
    • It has a Rubidium atomic clock onboard, a significant technology developed indigenously to determine the location of objects.
  • Currently, only four IRNSS satellites are able to provide location services.
    • The other satellites can only be used for messaging services.
  • The 2nd generation satellites will send signals in a third frequency, L1 (besides the L5 and S in the existing satellites) to increase interoperability and use in wearable devices.
  • The 2nd-generation satellites will also have a longer mission life of more than 12 years (existing satellites – 10 years).

Significance of NaVIC

  • Revenue generation: It will bring about healthy competition between the many different navigation services, as well as the possibility of significant revenues for the nation.
  • Technological Innovation: NAVIC should also propel technological innovations and spin-offs that render India progressively less reliant on technological imports from the West and elsewhere.
  • Combination of NAVIC with GAGAN: GAGAN is its indigenous augmentation system – It will help service users on differential rates depending on the navigational precision they seek.
  • Interoperability: NAVIC’s interoperability with GPS can ensure the minimization of technical snags when used complementarity with existing GPS-enabled solutions.
  • Net security providers: It will bolster the ability of a nation to serve as a net security provider along with its neighbours.

Expansion of Services under NavIC

  • Currently, only smartphones from manufacturers such as Poco, Vivo and Xiaomi – support NavIC.
  • To increase the adoption of the homegrown navigation system, the government is also considering offering additional incentives to smartphone makers.
    • This will be offered in the next round of the production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme if they use chips designed or manufactured in India which support NaviC technology.
  • The MeitY will make it almost mandatory (as it is already in the automobile segment) that all the devices that use GPS include the NavIC chipsets (without excluding others like GPS).
  • Earlier this week, as Apple announced its latest iPhone lineup will support NavIC, this will be the first time Apple has added support for NavIC to any of its iPhone models.
  • Apple’s adoption of the technology could propel NavIC into mainstream acceptance.
  • ISRO’s successful lunar mission (Chandrayaan 3), successful launch of its maiden solar mission (Aditya L1) and the mainstream acceptance of the NavIC technology shows India’s growing power as a space nation.