India wants to add its own satellite navigation system in iPhones

Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants hi-tech companies to include NavIC in their smartphones, but the latter are reluctant because of costs. Meanwhile, the government is offering financial incentives to enable India to replace China as a manufacturing hub.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Apple moved production of its new iPhones to India hoping not to encounter any problems, but did not consider Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalism and superpower ambitions.

Recently, Indian authorities have been putting pressure on the US technology giant, as well as Samsung and Xiaomi, to make their smartphones compatible with NavIC,[*] India's own satellite navigation system. The hi-tech giants are reluctant because of the high costs.

Following Prime Minister Modi's drive for self-reliance, India has expanded the use of NavIC since 2018 and limited the use of foreign navigation systems, the best known being the US-based Global Positioning System (GPS). The European Union, Russia, and China have their own satellite navigation systems.

For India, the goal is to become a superpower on a par with these countries, but in the case of NavIC its use is limited to the domestic market, mandated in public vehicle location trackers. Only 20 mobile phone models use it.

To fulfil its aspirations for grandeur, the government increased financial incentives to laptop and tablet companies (starting with Apple) as part of a strategy to replace China as top manufacturing hub.

A plan was proposed last year but failed to attract large hi-tech companies due to inadequate incentives (US$ 900 million).

In a series of meetings in August and September, India offered the support of the Indian space agency to modify smartphone hardware ready for sale in January 2023, but Apple, Samsung and Xiaomi declined.

Nevertheless, the matter is not over. India noted that systems like the US’s GPS and Russia’s GLONASS are operated by those countries’ defence agencies , making it possible for civilian service to be interrupted.

In China, over 90 per cent of China-made smartphones include the local BeiDou Navigation Satellite System.

Since Apple's website claims that its mobiles are compatible with all navigation systems, the more the reason for India to insist that NavIC be added.

The main stumbling block is the higher cost of dual band chipsets installed to make smartphones compatible with both NavIC and GPS.

For this reason, Samsung and Xiaomi – who together account for 38 per cent of India's smartphone market, especially in the under US$ 200 models – are reluctant to spend more for small add-ons that, at least for now, promise no big returns.

[*] Navigation with Indian Constellation.