India’s Push For Home-Grown Navigation System NavIC Jolts Smartphone Giants

According to India’s space agency, only roughly two dozen mobile handset models in India would have NavIC capabilities by mid-2021. As a result, India’s push for home-grown navigation system has jolted smartphone giants.

India's Push For Home-Grown Navigation System Jolts Smartphone Giants

According to two industry sources and government documents viewed by Reuters, India is pressuring tech goliaths to start making smartphones compatible with its home-grown navigation system within months, which is alarming companies like Samsung, Xiaomi, and Apple who fear increased costs and interruptions as the move necessitates hardware changes.

In conjunction with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aim for self-sufficiency, India has extended the usage of its regional navigation satellite system known as NavIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation) throughout the years.

The Indian government seeks to lessen reliance on foreign systems, notably the widely used Global Positioning System (GPS) in the United States, and claims that NavIC delivers more precise domestic navigation and that its usage would help the economy.

China, the European Union, Japan, and Russia all have global or regional navigation systems that compete with GPS. NavIC has been available since 2018, but adoption has been slow; it is required in public car location trackers, for instance.

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However, government and industry records suggest that Modi’s administration and space officials want to expand its use, and have urged smartphone manufacturers this year to make hardware modifications to support NavIC, in addition to GPS, in new phones that will be sold beginning in January 2023.

Representatives of Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Xiaomi Corp (1810.HK), Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS), and others resisted in private talks in August and September, citing concerns that turning phones NavIC-compliant would increase research and production expenses.

According to two smartphone industry sources and documents, the modifications would also necessitate additional testing clearances, which, with a January 1 deadline, would hamper businesses and planned launches.

According to the meeting minutes examined by Reuters, Samsung in particular raised concerns during a Sept. 2 closed-door meeting between leading smartphone players and chipmakers with Indian IT ministry and space agency officials.

Binu George, an executive with Samsung in India, cautioned against cost concerns by informing officials that new smartphone chipsets are only one part of what is needed for NavIC support.

“This would add to cost as it requires hardware design changes and additional investments to support devices specific to India. Further, the companies have already prepared for models to be launched in 2024,” the minutes quoted him as saying.

The smartphone companies have asked for an extension until 2025 to adopt the modifications, and a final verdict is due in the coming days, according to a senior government official.

According to the minutes, the Indian space agency will provide technical assistance for putting NavIC in future handsets, and another meeting may be scheduled.

India vs Others

According to India’s space agency, systems such as GPS and Russia’s GLONASS are managed by their respective defense agencies, rendering civilian service potential to be disrupted.

It claims that NavIC is completely under the hands of the Indian government, which hopes to expand it worldwide like GPS one day.

India wouldn’t be the first nation to press smartphone manufacturers to include native navigation capability.

Russia has pushed to compel the installation of its own GLONASS system in smartphones sold in the country in order to lessen dependence on GPS, which Washington can disable for civilian customers as it did during military operations in Iraq.

China’s Beidou was finished in June 2020, although it was not mandatory, the official Xinhua news agency projected that by 2021, 94.5% of China-made cellphones would support Beidou.

Together, Xiaomi and Samsung control 38% of the smartphone market in India, the world’s second largest after China. According to data from Hong Kong-based research firm Counterpoint, Apple’s more expensive handsets have an approximately 3% market share in India.

Other Chinese manufacturers, accounting for a further 28% of the market, were also represented at the September 2 meeting, according to official minutes. China’s Realme, a market leader with a 16% market share, did not attend, nor did smaller firms.

According to Apple’s website, modern iPhones support the five global and regional navigation networks, including GPS, GLONASS, and BeiDou. The Indian directive may compel it to include a new one.

According to smartphone industry sources, a fundamental worry for manufacturers such as Samsung and Xiaomi is the greater cost of so-called dual band chipsets required to handle both GPS and NavIC, as these companies are leaders in the sub-$200 bracket in India’s price-sensitive market.

Chipset Concern

Most smartphone manufacturers rely on global behemoths like Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O) in the United States and MediaTek Inc (2454.TW) in Taiwan to obtain NavIC-compliant chipsets.

According to Parv Sharma, senior semiconductor analyst at Counterpoint, voluntary usage of these kind of chipsets has been restricted in India since phone manufacturers are reticent to add the extra components – and money – necessary to make it work.

According to India’s space agency, only roughly two dozen mobile handset models in India would have NavIC capabilities by mid-2021. According to Counterpoint, there are approximately 300 in total.

During the conference on September 2, MediaTek stated that all of the company’s 5G phone chipsets would enable NavIC with “some cost enhancement” and additional hardware. MediaTek also stated that it expects approximately 80% of mobile phones to be 5G-enabled within the next two years.

In a statement, Qualcomm said it had been collaborating with the Indian space agency for years and will keep doing so to support NavIC on its chipsets.

Another drive by smartphone manufacturers is to persuade the Indian government to make NavIC accessible on the L1 satellite frequency, which is already used by GPS, rather than the L5 frequency utilized by New Delhi.

According to executives, this will simplify the process for manufacturers to integrate NavIC into chipsets that generally support the L1 spectrum around the world, lowering NavIC’s separate development expenses.

According to the meeting’s record, the Indian space agency ISRO informed the Sept. 2 conference that this was not immediately achievable, as NavIC was projected to be available on the L1 band only by 2024-25, following several satellite launches.

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