What is NaVIC?

NaVIC, which stands for Navigation with Indian Constellation, is India’s own satellite navigation system, like the GPS, which is of the US.

The heart of the system is seven satellites — the 8th will join them soon — positioned above India. These satellites form ‘Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System’ or IRNSS.

Why is NaVIC in the news?

NaVIC has been in operation since 2018 (after a seven-year delay from the original target date). But it is in the news now because the Indian government is asking for all smartphones sold in India to feature the NaVIC app (like Google Maps). As this entails a little tweaking of some phone hardware, particularly the chipsets, which will make the phones a little costlier.

Smartphone manufacturers such as Apple, Samsung, Xiomi and Readmi are not happy, but will comply.

Is NaVIC as good as GPS?

In some respects, better. GPS can take you within 20 meters of your target, while NaVIC is more precise — it will take you within five meters of the target. This may not be a big deal for individual users, but for military stuff, like guided missiles, it is very important. On the other hand, while GPS is global — you can use it anywhere in the world — NaVIC regional and can be used in India and up to 1,500 km from India’s borders.

However, India desires to make NaVIC global, which will happen if more satellites, say around 30, are sent up for this purpose. For now, NaVIC is regional.

How come NaVIC is more precise than GPS?

That’s a bit technical, but it is essentially because NaVIC uses two frequencies instead of one — the L5 (1176.45 MHz) and S band (2492.028 MHz). This improves accuracy by enabling the receivers on the satellites to correct any atmospheric errors through simultaneous use of the two frequencies.

Further, the uptime of the system is better than GPS because, as a government’s press release said, “either frequency can serve the positioning requirement equally well.”

Have the smartphone manufacturers been given a deadline to make their phones NaVIC-compatible?

There is no deadline. The government wants it ASAP; smartphone manufacturers want time — at least till 2025.

They are saying that if L1 frequency is used instead of L5, it would be easier and cheaper because L1 is already in use and the chipsets won’t need to be modified. However, a Reuter report has quoted ISRO as saying that switching to L1 is not possible.

Why do we need NaVIC when Google Maps is there for free?

Google Maps runs on GPS, which is American. Depending upon another country is never good, for they can easily switch off service at any time. In 1999, during the KargilWar, India requested the US to give data about enemy locations, which the US refused. That made India realise the criticality of an India-owned navigation system.

Which other countries have their own navigation systems?

Apart from the US’ GPS, there are Europe’s Galileo, Russia’s GLONASS, China’s Beidou and Japan’s QZSS.