India wants to launch its own GPS network, Apple and other smartphone makers say it can’t in the near future

Just as China has the BeiDou network, Russia has GLONASS and the European Union has invested in Galileo, India wants its own independent GPS network, putting pressure on device makers to add the necessary support to the hardware side as soon as possible.

The new network will be called NavIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation) and will have limited coverage, in the region of India and surrounding countries, provided by a network of eight satellites. By comparison, the US GPS network has 31 satellites and offers global coverage. But it’s not coverage that’s the cause of the complaints expressed by Apple and other smartphone manufacturers, but the fact that the new NavIC network would use radio communication bands other than those of current global positioning services, which requires major investment in developing new chipsets to support them.

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At the moment, the necessary hardware support is only present in the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max phones, with Apple and the other smartphone manufacturers trying to convince the Indian authorities to switch to the frequency band already used by competing services, explaining to them that chipset-level implementation of the necessary support cannot be done before 2025. But the biggest impediment is the very high costs, which would eventually have to be passed on to consumers worldwide.

At present, NavIC use is limited. The service is used to track public vehicles in India, to provide emergency warning messages to fishermen venturing out to sea where there is no connectivity to the terrestrial network, and to track and provide information related to natural disasters. Enabling NavIC in smartphones is the next step authorities want to take, but manufacturers already active in India’s huge market fear they will come under pressure to comply.

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Specifically, one of the reasons many smartphone manufacturers, including Apple, have chosen to produce phones in India is the country’s practice of imposing burdensome tariffs on imported products, which then become too expensive to compete with locally produced offerings. Taking advantage of this “privilege” already granted to manufacturers who have opened factories in India, the authorities could make the sale of new smartphone models conditional on the presence of NavIC support.

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