It’s the onset of the smartphone flood in India and along with it comes the race to be the first-in-segment. First, it was iQOO who was all geared up to launch India’s first 5G smartphone but Realme beat it by launching the X50 Pro 5G just a day before. Xiaomi too played their own tricks by ‘showcasing’ the Mi Mix Alpha even before the Realme X50 Pro and calling it India’s first 5G smartphone.
If the craze of being the first to launch a 5G smartphone wasn’t over yet, Mi India head Manu Kumar Jain took to Twitter on Tuesday to announce that they’re partnering with ISRO to launch India’s first smartphone to support the homegrown navigation protocol, NavIC. The announcement comes right in time for devices with the newly announced Snapdragon 720G chipset to be launched. For context, Qualcomm unveiled three new chipsets focused on the Indian market – Snapdragon 460, Snapdragon 662 and Snapdragon 720G. All three chipsets have native support for NavIC, and up until now were believed to power the first NavIC-enabled smartphones in India. However, the spec sheet of the Realme X50 Pro 5G on the company’s website claims otherwise.
Glorious new chapter for tech in #India! ??
— Manu Kumar Jain (@manukumarjain) February 25, 2020
After Xiaomi’s claim of being the first to launch a smartphone with NavIC, users on Twitter were quick to find out that the Realme X50 Pro 5G mentions support for NavIC. However, this is contradictory to the specifications of the Snapdragon 865 mobile platform found on Qualcomm’s website which only mentions Beidou, Galileo, GLONASS, Dual-frequency GNSS, GNSS, GPS, QZSS, and SBAS. Madhav Seth, CEO of Realme confirmed the claim with a tweet to which Francis Wang, the company’s CMO, also replied with a supporting screenshot mentioning the support for NavIC from what seems to be an internal testing tool by Qualcomm. Since there is so much confusion, we decided to run a few tests ourselves to see if the Realme X50 Pro 5G or the Snapdragon 865 for that matter does indeed have support for NavIC.
— Francis Wang (@FrancisRealme) February 27, 2020
GNSS & NavIC Test on Snapdragon 865
For reference, we were able to get our hands on a couple of screenshots from a test device used to demonstrate NavIC, which is the Mi 8. The Snapdragon 845 on the Mi 8 does not have support for NavIC either, but ISRO seems to have worked with Broadcomm to get it enabled on their unit. Anyhow, getting back to the screenshots, an app called GNSSTest is used to determine what satellites the phone is able to latch onto and as you can see in the screenshots, there are 6 satellites from India, which are the NavIC satellites.
When we ran the same app on our Realme X50 Pro 5G, the app was unable to latch onto any NavIC satellite which is visible by the number 0 displayed next to the Indian flag. To confirm this, we installed another app by the name “GNSS Viewer” which even lists out the names of the satellites the phone is latching onto and here too, we could not find NavIC listed which makes us believe that the phone is unable to communicate with the NavIC satellites. The other Snapdragon 865 device we have with us is the iQOO 3 and that too did not show any NavIC satellites on the app.
Does this mean the Realme X50 Pro does not have support for NavIC? At this point, we cannot confirm or deny anything unless we receive an official statement regarding the same. While Realme has posted a screenshot showing NavIC support from an internal tool, the publicly available ones we tested show otherwise. We have contacted Qualcomm, who seems to be in the best position to be giving us an answer on whether the 865 mobile platform does indeed have support for NavIC. We will keep this post updated as and when we receive any sort of confirmation.
Update: We continued to test this after publishing the article and interestingly, whether the phone is on WiFi or Mobile data seems to affect the process of latching onto NavIC satellites for some reason. As you can see from the screenshot below, the Realme X50 Pro manages to detect and latch on to two of the six NavIC satellites when the phone is connected to WiFi. By design, six out of seven NavIC satellites should be visible in India at ALL points in time but this GNSS Test app has support only for L1 and L5 bands and not the S-band which four of NavIC satellites use. This matches with what Francis tweeted. Interestingly, iQOO 3 fails to latch on to any NavIC satellite even on WiFi despite having the same Snapdragon 865 processor.
While we don’t have a plausible explanation for the whole WiFi vs mobile data difference, we continue to reach out to both Realme and Qualcomm to understand what’s happening. Stay tuned for more updates.
Update 2: Here is a statement from the Qualcomm spokesperson
In October 2019, Qualcomm announced support for India’s NavIC Satellite Navigation System in commercial chipset platforms and we are pleased to be working with ISRO in bringing NavIC to Indian consumers and enhance their navigation experience via more accurate location performance, faster time-to-first-fix (TTFF) position acquisition, and improved robustness. Recent Snapdragon Mobile Platform launches such as Snapdragon 765, 720G, 662 and 460 support NavIC. Snapdragon 865 is NaviC capable with the final software update coming to our OEMs around April 2020.