NavIC - What is India's alternative to GPS? Everything you need to know

Map shown on smartphone
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The Government of India is pushing major smartphone makers to bring support for the homegrown navigation system, NavIC from next year on devices sold in the country. A move that is said to have shaken up the industry because of the tight time frame and additional costs involved.

Reuters reported that the government of India is pushing smartphone makers to implement support for NavIC on smartphones they sell in India from January 2023. Smartphone giants such as Samsung, Xiaomi and Apple are shaken because of the extra costs and development of the products involved and the tight deadline. 

Let us look at what exactly NavIC is and everything you need to know about it. 

What is NavIC?


(Image credit: ISRO)

NavIC, or Navigation with Indian Constellation, is a navigation satellite system developed by ISRO. It became operational in 2018. 

It is a navigation system that covers all of India and up to 1500 Km from its boundaries. It is a regional alternative to US's GPS navigation system.

It consists of 8 satellites located at approximately 36,000 Km above sea level. Three satellites are in geostationary orbit, while the other five are in inclined geosynchronous orbit. Five more satellites are planned to be launched. 

The working of NavIC is similar to that of GPS. It provides an accuracy of better than 10m throughout the Indian landmass and better than 10m in the Indian ocean. 

However, the use case of NavIC is limited and is predominantly used in public vehicle tracking. Also, for providing emergency warning alerts to fishermen out in the sea and for tracking and providing information about natural disasters. 

India's government now wants to increase its use by making it more common in smartphones. 

GPS or Global Positioning System, the universally used navigation system, competes directly with NavIC. 

The main difference between NavIC and GPS is the area of operation. GPS is available worldwide, while NavIC is limited to India and adjacent regions. There is a plan to make NavIC available all over the globe in the future. 

As it is available worldwide and needs to cater to much more areas, GPS has a much superior satellite network. It has 31 satellites in operation, compared to 8 of NavIC. All of these satellites are geosynchronous satellites, compared to two different types of satellites used by NavIC. 

The accuracy of both NavIC and GPS for civilians is 20 meters, so you're not going to gain better accuracy with either of the systems. 

Smartphones did come with NavIC support before

smartphone navigation

(Image credit: Pexels / Artem Podrez)

Some smartphones did come with NavIC back in 2020, namely Realme X50 Pro, iQoo 3, Realme 6 series and Redmi Note 9 series. But after the initial hype of NavIC was gone, no brand bothered to bring any new devices with NavIC support. 

This new push from the Government of India means we will see support for NavIC in more and more smartphones. 

Why is India pushing for NavIC?

NavIC is conceived to reduce the dependence on GPS and other foreign satellite systems, especially for the 'strategic sectors.' 

Relying on these foreign satellite systems might not be reliable always, as these systems were operated by defence agencies of foreign countries. It may be possible in future that service may be denied for strategic use or civilian use.

"NavlC is an indigenous positioning system that is under Indian control. There is no risk of the service being withdrawn or denied in a given situation.", the government of India mentioned in a press release.

India is pushing now for NavIC to reduce the reliance on other navigation systems. 

Abhijith S
Tech Journalist

Abhijith specialises in phones, computing and everything Tech at Techradar. He is based out of Kerala. He has been writing about Tech since 2013, on his own blog. He also used to host a YouTube channel about phones.