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India reportedly asks smartphone makers to add local satnav silicon

Manufacturers allegedly told to connect to NavIC by 2023, which did not make them happy at all

India's Ministry of Electronics and IT has clarified that, while the world's second-most populous nation does want smartphone makers to include hardware to connect to its Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC) satnav system, it is in no rush to make it happen.

The clarification came after newswire Reuters reported that India's administration staged talks on the matter with major smartphone manufacturers, who pushed back strongly against a plan that would have required them to produce NavIC-compatible equipment by January 2023.

Reuters reported that the likes of Apple, Xiaomi and Samsung asked for a target date of 2025, because January 2023 would not allow enough time for smartphone makers to secure parts, redesign devices, change bills of materials, test, prepare assembly lines and do the many other chores needed to add new chips to their devices.

India's government has sought chipset manufacturers that would make NavIC-compatible silicon at the rate of a million a year, in an effort to reduce dependence on foreign systems while improving accuracy. At the time India issued its RFP for NavIC silicon in December 2020, Qualcomm was one of the few already making such chips for the sort of modestly priced smartphones made in China and bought in India.

"Further, the companies have already prepared for models to be launched in 2024," said Samsung's India executive Binu George in meeting minutes, according to the newswire.

India is in the midst of a years-long tech self-sufficiency drive that has seen it offer huge subsidies to lure tech manufacturers to its shores to produce products for local and global markets. The nation has dropped unsubtle hints that companies bringing manufacturing jobs to India will fare better than those that work offshore. The nation has also prioritized development of locally designed microprocessors, and encouraged government adoption of software made in India.

Directing smartphone makers to NavIC is entirely consistent with those plans.

Pushback from the global giants is not.

Which may be why the Ministry tweeted the following:

Basic phones rule

India's smartphone market is dominated by modestly priced devices.

Xiaomi and Samsung tied in Q2 2022 as India's phone market leaders, taking 19 percent of the market each, followed by vivo, according to Counterpoint Research. India has, however, made it clear that it would prefer Chinese brands like Xiaomi and vivo to exit the stage – at least when it comes to low-end units.

In the meantime, Apple owns a mere three percent of India's smartphone market, but leads the pack along with Samsung when it comes to premium devices. Apple could be forgiven for thinking that such a small share of the global market may not be worth the hassle of a redesign.

NavIC commenced operations in 2018 using just seven satellites. The system currently covers India and a region extending around 930 miles (1,500km) around it. The satnav is mandated in some instances – such as public vehicle location trackers – but doesn't have a huge uptake among those with choices.

India built NavIC to ensure locals have a satnav system dedicated to the nation's footprint. As a nuclear power with an extensive armory of missiles, India is also the sort of nation that needs sovereign satnav capacity to target its weapons. During conflict, access to other satnav systems – such as Europe's Galileo, the USA's GPS and Russia's GLONASS – would not be guaranteed. ®

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