Qualcomm has partnered with ISRO to integrate location tracking based on India’s own navigation system – Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC) – on a few of its chipsets. In the first half of 2020, we will have devices in India that, apart from constellations like GPS and GLONASS, use NavIC for location tracking. 

Will using NavIC improve location tracking accuracy over current systems like GPS? How much of an impact will NavIC have? Let’s discuss answers to all such questions. 

What is NavIC?

Navic is the operational name of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) developed by ISRO. Unlike GPS which is a Global tracking constellation, Navic has been designed to focus especially on India and adjoining regions (1500 Kms around India) and is a very significant achievement for the country. 

Navic Demo at IMC 2019

NavIC’s Standard Positioning Service (SPS) will be available to civilians, but the system also has another level of Restrictive Service (RS) that is encrypted and much more accurate ( in the range of 1 to 5 meters), and meant for defense applications and use by armed forces. 

Image source: ISRO

NavIC currently consists of 8 Satellites – IRNSS-1A, IRNSS-1B, IRNSS-1C, IRNSS-1D, IRNSS-1E, IRNSS-1F, IRNSS-1G, IRNSS-1I.

Actually, Navic was supposed to include 7 satellites and 2 backup satellites, but the Atomic clock of the first satellite, IRNSS 1A, stopped working and the launch of IRNSS 1H that was meant to replace the defective satellite failed. The IRNSS 1I launched later finally replaced IRNSS 1A and completed the constellation. 

In the future, ISRO will add more satellite to the system with home developed Atomic clocks to further improve NavIC

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NavIC vs GPS: Which one is more accurate?

As mentioned above, GPS or Global Positioning System tracks the entire globe and is maintained by the USA. The constellation requires 24 Satellites to be operational and has around 31 satellites in orbit. All of these are Geosynchronous Satellites, which is to say that they are not stationary in space with respect to the revolving earth. GPS also uses a single frequency band and this makes calculations a bit more complex. 

India’s Navic mostly has Geostationary satellites and these satellites are situated in much higher orbit (signal is less prone to obstructions). NavIC satellites use dual frequency bands (L5-band and S-band), which is why the system is relatively more accurate than GPS (that uses a single band and makes compensation for error due to signal deterioration by the atmosphere). 

Image source: ISRO

However, the accuracy of the Standard Positioning Service available to civilians is 20 meters for both GPS and NavIC. This can be improved to 10 meters by combining data from cellular tower tracking – as is already a standard practice. 

Since the accuracy range is the same for the civilian arm of both navigation systems, NavIC might not result in a drastic improvement over GPS. Having said that, the location accuracy is expected to see a noticeable improvement in “dense urban environments where geolocation accuracy tends to degrade.” Qualcomm assures more accurate location performance and faster time-to-first-fix (TTFF) in the NavIC supported region. 

When will we see NavIC on phones?

Qualcomm will provide NavIC compatible chipsets to OEMs starting late 2019. You can expect the first set of NavIC supported phones to hit the market in the first half of 2020. 

The NavIC support is likely to be first integrated on mid-tier Snapdragon 600 and Snapdragon 700-series chipsets – which constitute the most prominent SoCs in the Indian market.

The first set of Qualcomm chipsets will have single-frequency receivers that track the L5 band, the brand will later bring in dual-frequency receivers that can track both L5 and S-band for higher accuracy (probably for the 800-series).

In case you are confused, Google Maps and other location-based apps won’t have to make any changes to benefit from the new development. Qualcomm Location Suite, that currently supports 7 constellations, will be responsible for tracking your location and passing it on to apps that require it. 

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Will NavIC Support be extended to older phones with a software update?

No. Navic uses a different frequency band and Integrating NavIC also requires hardware changes on the chipset. Qualcomm representative confirmed to Smartprix that the support can not be passed on to older phones via OTA update. 

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