What is NavIC and How is it Different from GPS? Comprehensive Guide
If you are following the Indian smartphone scene closely, especially on social media, you are sure to have come across the term NavIC in the past week, if not earlier. NavIC has been gaining a lot of popularity of late, not just because it’s a technological breakthrough for India, but also due to smartphone brands fighting to claim to be the first to introduce it on their smartphone.
If you want to know how it all began and the turn of events related to NavIC support on Snapdragon 865, we have dedicated articles where we tested the claim ourselves as well as one that answers a few questions you may have.
This article, however, is more generic and aims to explain the working of NavIC and its advantages. Treat this more like an explainer in the format of frequently asked questions. It’s important to know what NavIC truly is and if it is really advantageous before arguing about who had it first on their phone, so here we go.
NavIC is a navigation service developed in India, for India by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). We are all aware of the Global Positioning System or GPS and have been using it for years now to help with geolocation services. While GPS was developed by the US Government and is available to use throughout the globe, NavIC is currently India-specific and only covers up to 1500 km around the country.
NavIC was developed by ISRO to achieve better location precision not just for civilian use, but mainly for the operations of the military. The US government does not provide sensitive GPS information to other countries which gave rise to NavIC. Back in 1999, when Pakistani troops took positions in Kargil, India approached the US to get GPS data of the region and this request was denied. This made India realize the importance of having an indigenous satellite navigation system which gave rise to NavIC.
For some context, any sort of location-based service requires your device to communicate with a satellite in orbit. For this communication to take place, there are multiple frequency bands that can be made use of. GPS, for example, uses the ‘L’ band – L1 and L5 to be specific. These bands are nothing but a medium for the signals to travel, just like how Wi-Fi signals from your router travel over the 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands.
NavIC is a dual-band GNSS system that makes use of both ‘L’ as well as ‘S’ bands. It utilizes the L5 band for civilian use, while the ‘S’ band is limited to military use cases. It has seven satellites in orbit out of which 6 are accessible through the L5 band. For further accuracy, ISRO plans to launch a total of 11 satellites into orbit for NavIC. GPS, which covers the entire Earth, has 24 satellites.
GPS uses something known as geosynchronous satellites whose positions are not fixed with respect to a certain location on Earth. NavIC, on the other hand, mostly relies on geostationary satellites whose positions are fixed with respect to a certain location, which in this case, is India. The satellites follow Earth’s orbit and hence are always above a certain fixed location on the Earth’s surface. While this is already more beneficial, geostationary satellites are situated in a higher orbit which means there are lesser obstructions but also weaker signals.
Undoubtedly, yes. NavIC can reach an accuracy of up to 5-10 meters whereas GPS is generally believed to have an accuracy of up to 20m. Not just the accuracy, but NavIC is said to have a faster latch-on time, which is technically referred to as Time To First Fix (TTFF). What this means is that NavIC can detect your precise location faster than GPS even in dense urban areas with lots of tall buildings and obstructions.
Apart from better location tracking and precise geolocation services, NavIC can be used for aerial and marine navigation, disaster management, fleet management, voice navigation etc.
Yes, NavIC needs a dedicated dual-GNSS module with support for the L5 band in order to function. This can either be integrated with the SoC itself, or manufacturers can decide to include a separate chip that enables this.
Unfortunately, this is not possible as NavIC requires dedicated hardware that cannot be enabled through an OTA update.
At the time of writing, the Snapdragon 720G, Snapdragon 765, Snapdragon 662 and Snapdragon 460 come with official support for NavIC. While the Snapdragon 865 has the required hardware, it needs a firmware upgrade in order to support NavIC which will come out in April this year. This just means that these chipsets have integrated support for NavIC.
While Realme claims to have gotten NavIC to work on the Realme X50 Pro 5G, it is patchy and does not work all the time. The full support should technically be coming with Qualcomm’s firmware in April. Both Realme and Xiaomi are expected to launch devices with the Snapdragon 720G chipset very soon and they would be one of the first devices to officially support NavIC. We will keep updating this section as and when more devices with NavIC support are launched.
We hope your questions regarding NavIC are answered and you have a better understanding about what NavIC is and how it works and if it truly is a better alternative to GPS. If you have any further questions, you can reach out to us on Twitter @TechPP and we will be glad to help you.