From war to business to economy, why NavIC is the tech for a rising India, ET Auto

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<p>While NavIC is as good as other GPS in accuracy, it is more suitable for Indian terrain and has better performance since it's focused on India and neighbouring areas alone.</p>
While NavIC is as good as other GPS in accuracy, it is more suitable for Indian terrain and has better performance since it’s focused on India and neighbouring areas alone.

The story of NavIC, India’s homegrown GPS alternative, is the story of how India changed from a country that depended on others for its crucial needs to the one that is confident of creating a place of its own in the global power hierarchy. With Apple agreeing to incorporate NavIC, or Navigation with Indian Constellation, in its latest iPhone15 smartphones, India has taken an important step towards ‘atmanirbharta’, replacing the GPS (Global Positioning System) of the US which smartphone makers in India mostly use. Now India is making it mandatory for both smartphone and auto makers to use NavIC. The desi GPS: From war to business

When Pakistani troops took positions in Kargil in 1999, one of the first things the Indian military sought was the global positioning system data for the region. The space-based navigation system maintained by the US government would have provided vital information, but the US denied it to India. A need for an indigenous satellite navigation system was felt earlier, but the Kargil experience made India realise its importance.

Amid increasingly shifting geopolitical realities, it is crucial for India to be self-reliant in satellite navigation. But not just war, where satellite navigation helps track enemy location and movement as well as guide precision weapons, a desi GPS helps economy and business too in a significant way.

A big push to the economy

Not very long back, when large swathes of India were out of the formal economy, developing India’s own satellite navigation system was a luxury. As the economy formalises and integrates, now a desi GPS becomes critical for growth. It can help businesses improve efficiencies, cut costs and find new solutions. NavIC is essentially a communication system, much needed when businesses aim to increase reach and penetration and an increasingly interlinked economy needs better coordination.

The most critical civilian use of NavIC will be in India’s ambitious project to fasttrack the economy with improved logistics. As India builds highways at a breathless speed and is also putting in place a multimodal national transport system including dedicated freight corridors, NavIC will be of great use as it can track goods and vehicles, increasing speed and efficiency.

The logistics cost in India is 13% of the GDP, compared to 8% in the rest of the world. This makes Indian exports less competitive as well as raising prices of domestic goods. The government has chalked out an ambitious plan to bridge the gap with global logistics cost. An indigenously developed navigation system will help better tracking, bring down costs and improve efficiencies.

For example, something as simple as route planning can jack up costs when it lacks efficiency. Effective route planning can ensure that goods reach the destination on time; the fuel and driver costs are minimal; truck utilisation improves; and there is less vehicle wear and tear. All these factors contribute to the success or failure of a logistics operation. A desi GPS, which is better for Indian conditions than other GPS and will also cost less, can ensure a seamless logistics system.

Better route optimisation can be achieved with NavIC. Currently, the designed maps, such as Google Maps, are just route planners, Arpit Sharma, Senior Manager- Technology Research and Advisory, Aranca, wrote in TOI, but NavIC would help with better optimization and route suggestions. This would also provide new use cases for developing route optimizer apps that would: Optimize road utilization and evenly distribute traffic; and differentiate cargo traffic of trucks from consumer fleet traffic of cars, buses, rickshaws, and bikes. Indian and global automakers and truck and bus manufacturers and GPS chip makers would have to revamp the technical specification of their offerings to accommodate NavIC.

The government is planning to mandate chips embedded with NavIC for the automotive industry. Accord Software Systems, a local startup, has incorporated NavIC in the design of its integrated circuit which is being used to produce a 28 nanometer chip that is now being sold to companies in the Indian automotive sector. Soon, trucks and other commercial vehicles will come equipped with NavIC.

Other uses

With better positional accuracy and lower subscription cost, NavIC will be useful for home delivery as well as ride-hailing services. At present, these businesses use GPS. NavIC will bring down costs and increase efficiencies. General delivery businesses will also gain from using NavIC for the same reasons.

NavIC could present new use cases for navigation-based gaming apps (similar to PokemonGo, Pikmin Bloom, Marvel’s Avengers, etc.) in India, Arpit Sharma wrote in TOI. It can also help auto insurance companies to track vehicles they have mortgaged, advertising companies to develop better location-sensitive advertisements, and the travel and tourism industry to create location-based use cases such as improving guests’ experience by making the tour more informative and interactive. NavIC will also help India’s drone industry grow and become more efficient, especially drone delivery businesses

The NavIC edge

NavIC has limited coverage against the GPS developed by the US, EU, Russia and China. However, it is interoperable with all of them. Since mobile handset-makers will have to integrate it at the processor level, this will bump up costs, but not by much. US semiconductor MNC Qualcomm has been supporting NavIC in a select line of smartphone chips since 2019.

The main difference is the serviceable area covered by these systems. GPS caters to users across the globe and its satellites circle the earth twice a day, while NavIC is currently for use in India and adjacent areas. The government aims to expand the coverage from regional to global to ensure availability of NavIC signal in any part of the world. Like GPS, there are three more navigation systems that have global coverage – Galileo from the European Union, Russia-owned GLONASS and China’s Beidou. QZSS, operated by Japan, is another regional navigation system covering the Asia-Oceania region, with a focus on Japan.

While NavIC is as good as other GPS in accuracy, it is more suitable for Indian terrain and has better performance since it’s focused on India and neighbouring areas alone. It also works better in India’s tropical climate than other GPS.

  • Published On Sep 18, 2023 at 03:40 PM IST

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