Qualcomm has been working with ISRO for a while now to develop a location tracking system for India. It has been named the Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC). As a result of this partnership, we are now seeing chipsets from Qualcomm that are NavIC enabled. However, how does this NavIC different from traditional GPS? Let’s take a detailed look into it. We have also discussed when we will see NavIC on phones.
What is NavIC?
NavIC is a name given by ISRO to the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System(IRNSS). Now GPS is a global constellation tracking system, but NavIC is a system developed specifically for India, and 1500km around India. Now this achievement from ISRO is intended both for Indian civilians, as well as for the armed forces. It has a standard positioning service for the civilians and a restrictive service for the defence forces. Standard positioning service or SPS allows for a rough location tracking whereas the restrictive service allows for more accurate tracking.
As of now, ISRO’s navigation is using a total of 8 satellites, namely, IRNSS-1A, IRNSS-1B, IRNSS-1C, IRNSS-1D, IRNSS-1E, IRNSS-1F, IRNSS-1G, IRNSS-1I. Initially, the plan was to have 7 satellites, but the IRNSS-1A had some technical issues, and it was needed to be replaced. IRNSS-1H was then launched to replace the faulty satellite, but it never made it and it was also a failure. Finally again IRNSS-1I was launched and it is now working with the other satellites to keep NavIC up and running. As days pass by, ISRO will add on more satellites to develop this new system further.
List of All NavIC Supported Phones
Recently, Realme unveiled its flagship phone Realme X50 Pro 5G that comes with Snapdragon 865 SoC under the hood. It is the world’s first device to feature the NavIC system which was confirmed in a tweet by Realme CEO Madhav Sheth.
Alongside Snapdragon 865 chipset, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 720G for mid-range gaming devices and Snapdragon 662 & 460 for affordable handsets also support NavIC. Now, we have three 720G powered phones, namely Realme 6 Pro, Redmi Note 9 Pro, and Redmi Note 9 Pro Max. All three of them come with NavIC navigation system out of the box.
Initially, all these processors are set to receive only the single frequency L5 band. Later on, new processors will be unveiled with received for both the L5 and S-band. This does not mean that Google maps services will stop working. Just the tracking system will change from GPS to NavIC and the same information will be used by the apps to display our location, similar to how it currently functions.
Will older devices receive ISRO’s navigation support through a software update?
Please note that older phones will not support NavIC. This is because ISRO’s navigation requires hardware changes to the chipset. No amount of software update can bring about this change. Only phones powered by the new Qualcomm processors with NavIC band receivers will support this new location tracking system developed by ISRO together with Qualcomm. This is indeed a big achievement for the country.
How NavIC is Better than GPS?
In comparison, Indian developed NavIC uses mostly geostationary satellites. These 8 satellites are located in a relatively higher orbit resulting in signals with fewer obstructions. On top of it, it uses dual frequency bands (L-5 and S-band). This results in higher accuracy than the single banded GPS.
As mentioned earlier, NavIC has a standard positioning system which gives the civilians a position accuracy of up to 20 meters. Similarly, GPS also provides a position accuracy of only up to 20 meters. This means that for civilians like us, the difference between GPS and NavIC will be virtually none at all. Yes, the accuracy can be improved up to 10 meters using cellular tower tracking but that is something that is already being used with GPS. So things will definitely remain the same in most scenarios. However, Qualcomm claims that ISRO’s navigation will have a more accurate location tracking in dense urban environments, where normally geolocation accuracy has a tendency to degrade.