India Plans to Expand Regional Satellite Navigation System


    In News

    • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is working on a series of improvements to the Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC).

    Key Points

    • Not in Regular Use: 
      • Though NavIC is available for use in mainland India as well as a range of 1,500 km around it, it isn’t in wide regular use in India.
      • Primary reason for the latter is because mobile phones haven’t been made compatible to process its signals. 
    • Newer Additions:
      • The L1 band into NavIC. 
      • This bandwidth is part of the GPS and is the most used for civilian navigational use. 
      • Currently NavIC is only compatible with the L5 and S bands and hasn’t easily penetrated into the civilian sector.
      • The other major step would be to increase the “safety” of the signals. 
    • Replacement of defunct satellites:
      • There are five more satellites in the offing to replace defunct NavIC satellites that would be launched in the coming months. 

    About NavIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation)

    • Indigenous technology: 
      • NavIC is an Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS). 
      • It is a constellation of seven satellites that can be used to track location. 
    • First satellite:
      • The first of these satellites (IRNSS-1A) were launched in 2013 and the latest in 2018. 
    • Project Cost: 
      • It was originally approved in 2006 at a cost of $174 million. 
    • Operational timeline: 
      • It became operational in 2018 though missing the completion timeline of late 2011. 
    • Orbit: 
      • Currently, NavIC satellites orbit earth in a geostationary or geosynchronous (GEO) orbit, or about 36,000 km from earth. 
    • Coverage: 
      • It covers the Indian mainland (primary coverage area) and a region extending up to 1,500 km beyond the mainland with plans of extension.
    • Position: 
      • Aims for better than 10 meters throughout Indian landmass and 20 meters in the Indian Ocean.
    • Timing: Better than 50 nanoseconds(20).
    • Applications: NavIC provides two levels of service.
    • The standard positioning service: Open for civilian use. For example- transport, map applications, timekeeping etc.
    • A restricted service (encrypted):  For authorized users such as the military.
    • Current Usage: Limited for-
    • Public vehicle and commercial vehicles tracking (NavIC based trackers)
    • Emergency warning alerts to fishermen navigating into the deep sea without adequate terrestrial network connectivity
    • Tracking and providing information related to natural disasters
    • Other Navigation Systems:
      • Global: 
        • Global Positioning System (GPS) of the U.S.A. 
        • Galileo from the European Union
        • Russian GLONASS 
        • China’s Beidou 
      • Regional: 
    • QZSS covers the Asia-Oceania region, with a focus on Japan.


    NavIC in Smartphones: Benefits

    • Self-reliance: 
      • NavIC aims to remove dependence on foreign satellite systems for navigation service requirements, especially for strategic sectors.
    • NavIC will further the goal of Atmanirbhar Bharat and ‘vocal for local’.
    • Indian Control & Risk Aversion: 
      • Reliance on GPS and GLONASS may not always be reliable as they are operated by the respective defense agencies. 
    • For e.g. The U.S. denied GPS data for Kargil region to the Indian military in 1999.
    • As NavIC is an indigenous positioning system, there is no risk of the withdrawal of service in similar situations.
    • Promotion of Local Industry: 
      • Ministries can use NavIC applications to promote local industry to develop indigenous NavIC-based solutions.
    • Global Precedents: 
    • In 2021, 94.5% of smartphones manufactured in China were Beidou supported.
    • Russia mandates inclusion of GLONASS system in locally manufactured and sold smartphones
    • Apple’s devices support five global and regional navigational systems like GPS, GLONASS, Beidou etc.

    Smartphone Companies Response 

    • Existing Support: Major mobile chipset manufacturers like Qualcomm, MediaTek and Broadcom already support NavIC across various chipset platforms.
    • Widening Ambit: A few recently launched mobile handsets can be enabled to receive NavIC.
    • For example, the Redmi Note 9 series from Xiaomi, the Realme 6 series, the OnePlus Nord etc. 
    • Concerns: 
    • Additional costs: Xiaomi and Samsung reported higher research and production costs (hardware changes-Dual band chipsets) might cause losses in a price sensitive market like India. 
    • Tight time frame: Testing clearances can take more time possibly missing the 1 January 2023 deadline for making smartphones NavIC-complaint.
    • Technical complexities: Mobile phone chipsets at present support L1 frequency band (used by GPS and GLONASS). NavIC is available in L5 band, making immediate compliance to it difficult.

    Way Ahead

    • Enhancing Reach with More Satellites: To make NavIC truly “global” like GPS, more satellites would need to be placed in an orbit closer to earth than the current constellation. Satellite navigation draft policy 2021 plans to expand the NavIC coverage from regional to global, so it should be expedited.
    • Using Long Code: Currently (NavIC) only provides short code. This has to become Long Code for the use of the strategic sector. This prevents the signal from being breached. This had been part of the original scheme for NavIC but less work has gone into it so far.
    • Push for Manufacturers: The Indian government has been pressing manufacturers to add compatibility and has set a deadline of January 2023 but media reports suggest this is unlikely before 2025. The manufacturers  need to be incentivized properly.
    • Utilising Medium Earth Orbit (MEO): Right now, NavIC’s reach is only 1,500 km beyond Indian territory. But for ships and aeroplanes travelling beyond that satellites in Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) are needed.

    Source: TH