India asks smartphone makers to use its own navigation satellite system

India has asked smartphone makers to use its own navigation satellite system called NavIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation) within months.
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The investment for the deployment of India’s home-grown navigation system will result into increase in the cost of manufacturing of smartphones.

Phone makers such as Samsung, Xiaomi and Apple say that there will be elevated costs and disruptions as the move requires hardware changes, Reuters news report said.

The Indian government wants to reduce dependence on foreign systems, including the widely used U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS), and says NavIC provides more accurate domestic navigation and that its use would benefit the economy.

China, the European Union, Japan and Russia have their own global or regional navigation systems to rival GPS. Operational since 2018, NavIC’s uptake is minimal; it is mandated in public vehicle location trackers, for example.

Modi’s administration and space officials want to broaden its use, and pushed smartphone giants to make hardware changes to support NavIC, in addition to GPS, in new phones they will sell from January 2023.

Representatives of Apple, Xiaomi, Samsung Electronics and others pushed back, citing worries that making phones NavIC-compliant would mean higher research and production costs.

The changes would also require more testing clearances, which with a Jan. 1 deadline would disrupt businesses and planned launches, according to two smartphone industry sources and documents.

Samsung in particular voiced concerns during a Sept. 2 closed-door meeting between top smartphone players and chipmakers with Indian IT ministry and space agency officials.

Samsung’s India executive Binu George warned of cost worries, telling officials that NavIC support requires not just new smartphone chipsets but also many other components.

The smartphone players have sought time until 2025 to implement the changes, and a final decision is expected in coming days, a senior government official said.

A concern for players like Samsung and Xiaomi remains the higher cost of dual band chipsets they would need to support both GPS and NavIC, as these companies are leaders in the sub-$200 category in India’s price-sensitive market, the smartphone industry sources said.

For procuring NavIC-compliant chipsets, most smartphone makers are reliant on global giants such as U.S. chip designer Qualcomm and Taiwan’s MediaTek.

Voluntary use of such chipsets has been limited in India as phone manufacturers remain hesitant to add the extra components – and cost – required to make it work, said Parv Sharma, senior semiconductor analyst at Counterpoint.

India’s space agency said that by mid-2021, only about two dozen mobile handset models in India had NavIC capability. In total there are around 300, Counterpoint has said.

MediaTek in a government meeting said its chipsets for 5G phones would support NavIC, with some cost enhancement and additional hardware. MediaTek added that it expected about 80 percent of mobile phones to be 5G-enabled in two years.

Qualcomm in a statement said it has been working with the Indian space agency to enable NavIC on its chipsets for years and will continue to do so.