Thursday, November 30, 2023

India’s push for indigenous navigation system rattles smartphone giants

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According to two industry sources and government documents viewed by a news agency, India is pressuring tech giants to make smartphones compatible with its in-house navigation system within months. This is alarming companies like Samsung, Xiaomi, and Apple who worry about increased costs and disruptions as the move requires hardware changes.

India has increased the usage of its regional navigation satellite system called NavIC over the years in accordance with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s push for independence (Navigation with Indian Constellation).

The Indian government claims that NavIC offers more accurate domestic navigation and that its adoption will boost the economy in an effort to lessen reliance on foreign systems, such as the widely used U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS).

In order to compete with GPS, China, the European Union, Japan, and Russia all have their own global or regional navigation systems. Despite being in use since 2018, NavIC has seen little adoption; for instance, it is required in public car location trackers.

However, according to government and industry documents, Modi’s administration and space officials want to expand its use. As a result, they have pushed smartphone giants to make hardware changes this year so that new phones they will start selling in January 2023 will support NavIC in addition to GPS.

Representatives of Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Xiaomi Corp (1810.HK), Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS), and other companies resisted in private talks in August and September, expressing concerns that making phones NavIC-compliant would result in increased research and manufacturing expenses.

According to two smartphone industry insiders and documentation, the modifications would also call for further testing certifications, which with a Jan. 1 deadline would disrupt operations and scheduled launches.

Apple and Xiaomi did not react to demands for comment, while Samsung declined to make any remarks about the talks. Both the project involved space agency ISRO and the IT ministry of India remained silent.

According to the conference minutes that were seen by the news agency, Samsung in particular expressed concerns at a Sept. 2 closed-door meeting between leading smartphone companies and chipmakers with the Indian IT ministry and space agency officials.

A final decision is anticipated in the coming days, a senior government source said. The smartphone industry has requested an extension until 2025 to execute the modifications.

According to the minutes, the Indian space agency will offer technical assistance for integrating NavIC into new handsets, and a subsequent meeting may be scheduled.


According to India’s space agency, defence agencies in both Russia and the United States run systems like GPS and GLONASS, which makes it conceivable for civilian service to be disrupted.

It claims that the Indian government, which one day hopes to take NavIC worldwide like GPS, has complete control over the system.

India wouldn’t be the first nation to demand that manufacturers of smartphones include support for a native navigation system.

In order to reduce reliance on GPS, which Washington may disable for civilian users as it did during military operations in Iraq, Russia has pushed to make it mandatory for cellphones sold domestically to include its own GLONASS system.

China’s Beidou was finished in June 2020, and even though it wasn’t required, the official Xinhua news agency announced that in 2021, Beidou support was present in 94.5% of China-made cellphones.

Together, Xiaomi and Samsung control 38% of India’s smartphone market, which is the second largest in the world after China. According to statistics from Hong Kong-based research company Counterpoint, Apple’s more costly smartphones have about a 3% market share in India.

According to official minutes, other Chinese manufacturers, who account for another 28% of the market, were also present at the meeting on September 2. Smaller manufacturers like China’s Realme, which has a 16% market share, did not attend.

According to Apple’s website, recent iPhones already support GPS, GLONASS, and BeiDou in addition to the other five global and regional navigation systems. It could be compelled to install a new one by the Indian instruction.

As leaders in the sub-$200 price range in India’s price-sensitive market, businesses like Samsung and Xiaomi continue to be concerned about the greater cost of so-called dual band chipsets they would require to support both GPS and NavIC.

Read more: Apple to begin manufacturing of iPhone 14 in India

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