India is threatening technology giants to make smartphones compatible with its home-grown navigation system in months, causing problems for Samsung, Xiaomi, and Apple, who fear rising costs and disruptions as the move requires hardware changes, according to two industry sources and government documents.
India has increased the use of its regional navigation satellite system called NavIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation) in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi''s self-reliance.
The Indian government wants to reduce dependence on foreign systems, including the widely used USGlobal Positioning System (GPS), and believes NavIC provides greater domestic navigation, which would benefit the economy.
China, the European Union, Japan, and Russia have their own global or regional navigation systems to rival GPS. Its use has been minimal, especially in public vehicle location tracking systems.
According to government and industry reports, Modi''s administration and space officials want to broaden its use, and this year have pushed smartphone giants to make hardware modifications to support NavIC, along with GPS, in new phones they will sell from January 2023.
Representatives of Apple, Xiaomi, Samsung Electronics, and others pushed back during private meetings in August and September, citing concerns that making phones NavIC-compliant would result in higher research and production costs.
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According to two sources and documents, the changes would also require additional testing clearances, which, with a January 1 deadline, would stymie businesses and planned launches.
Samsung denied making any comments on the discussions, while Apple and Xiaomi did not respond to requests for explanation. India''s IT ministry and the space agency ISRO, both involved in the project, did also not respond.
According to the meetings'' minutes reviewed by Reuters, Samsung expressed concern during a closed-door meeting between top smartphone players and chipmakers on September 2th.
Binu George, the Indian CEO of Samsung, warned of costs concerns, stating that NavIC assistance requires not only new smartphone chipsets, but also many other components.
"This would add to costs as it requires hardware design changes and additional investments to support devices specific to India," he says. Further, the firms have already prepared for models to be launched in 2024, according to the report.
George did not respond to a request for clarification.
According to a senior government official, smartphone developers have sought time to implement the changes until 2025.
The Indian space agency will provide technical assistance for installing NavIC on new smartphones, according to the minutes, adding another meeting may be held.
India vs. Others
India''s space agency has stated that GPS and Russia''s GLONASS are operated by their countries'' defense agencies, making it possible for civilian service to be terminated.
According to the reports, NavIC is fully under the control of the Indian government, which one day wants to take it worldwide as GPS.
India would not be the first country to force smartphone manufacturers to add support for a native navigation system.
Russia has enlisted the inclusion of its own GLONASS system in smartphone purchases locally, reducing the need for GPS, which Washington can turn off for civilian subscribers as it did during military operations in Iraq.
Beidou, a Chinese company, was completed in June 2020, and, although not mandated, the official news agency Xinhua said in 2021, 94 percent of China-made smartphones received Beidou support.
According to Counterpoint, Google and Xiaomi combine to represent 38 percent of the Indian smartphone market, the world''s second largest after China. Apple''s more expensive smartphones have a roughly 3 percent share in India.
According to government minutes, other Chinese manufacturers who made up another 28 percent of the market were also present at the meeting on September 2nd. China''s Realme, which has a 16 percent market share, did not participate, and neither did smaller manufacturers.
Apple''s website claims it already supports the five global and regional navigation networks, including GPS, GLONASS, and BeiDou in the current iPhone handsets. The Indian directive might impose the addition of a new one.
According to smartphone industry sources, the higher cost of so-called dual band chipsets they would need to support both GPS and NavIC are still prevalent in India. These companies are leading in the sub-$200 (roughly Rs. 16,300) category in the price-sensitive sector.
Concern over the Chipset market
Most smartphone manufacturers are dependent on international corporations, such as Qualcomm Inc., and MediaTek, who are developing NavIC-compliant chipsets.
According to Parv Sharma, an internationally renowned semiconducter analyst, the use of such chipsets has been limited in India as phone manufacturers continue to be reluctant to include extra components - and costs - necessary to make it work.
According to Counterpoint, India''s space ministry predicted that by mid-2021 only about two dozen mobile handset models in India had NavIC capability. In total, there are 300 people.
MediaTek said that all of its 5G phones'' chipsets would support NavIC, citing a "couple costs increase" and additional hardware. According to the report, around 80 percent of mobile phones would be 5G-enabled in two years.
MediaTek has declined to comment on Reuters queries. Qualcomm in a statement said it has worked with the Indian space agency to enable NavIC on its chipsets for years and will continue to do so.
Another lobbying effort from smartphone players is to persuade the Indian government to make NavIC available on the so-called L1 satellite frequency, which is already used by GPS, and not on the L5 frequency used by New Delhi.
This, according to executives, will allow manufacturers to integrate NavIC into chipsets which most often support the L1 band the world over, thus saving separate development costs for NavIC.
ISRO, an Indian space agency, said the September2 gathering was not immediately possible, as NavIC would be available on the L1 band by 2024-25, following further satellite launches, according to the meeting''s records.
Thomson Reuters, 2022