When it comes to navigation, GPS is the most reliable option available to use, and we even consider it synonymous with navigation, which isn’t correct. We are using GPS, which is operated by the USA, for quite long now, and in a similar way, you can also find GLONASS, which is yet another navigation system operated by Russia. Even though the GPS or Global Positioning System is used globally, including India, but as it operated by the US agencies, and the diplomatic ties can be finicky, which, however, isn’t my point of discussion here. But it is necessary for a country like India to have its own navigation system.
NavIC full form in English is Navigation with Indian Constellation, originally IRNSS, the acronym of Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System is the indigenous navigation system developed by ISRO, especially for India, including around 1,500 Km beyond the political boundaries of India, which cover most parts of the Indian subcontinent, including south Asia. The NavIC is still under development, and we will see further developments in the near future with more Indian satellites in orbit that will significantly improve the accuracy. Nevertheless, the accuracy is still appreciable at this point in time, and it is indeed a great achievement for India to be one of the few countries with its own navigation system after the USA, Russia, Gallileo by EU, QZSS by Japan, and Beidou by China.
So, let’s first find out the potential capabilities of NavIC, followed by a few technical aspects, and how NavIC can provide an edge over the most popular GPS navigation system.
Talking about whom exactly, NavIC will cater to, it will serve both civilians, as well as defense professionals, which is supposed to be used by armed forces. The first one, Standard Positioning Service or SPS, is meant for the civilians, and the encrypted Restrictive Service or RS will be used for defense requirements. The SPS standard will be accurate to around 10 to 20 meters, which is enough for civilians, and for the purpose of navigation, while the RS standard will offer more accuracy with a range of anywhere between 1 and 5 meters.
As NavIC is an Indian navigation system, the practical applications of NavIC will be more reliable, and it will be used for a plethora of applications that include terrestrial, marine and aerial navigation, vehicle tracking and management of fleet operations, mobile navigation, and also for audio-visual navigation aid for drivers. Talking about more applications, NavIC or IRNSS will be used in disaster management, precision in timing, mapping and capturing geographical data, navigation for travelers and hikers, and a lot more. There is every possibility that we will find more applications of NavIC with the improvement in the precision of this new technology.
Let’s now have a look at how NavIC will accomplish its task, and then I will talk about why it is going to be better than GPS.
Currently, NavIC will rely on 7 Indian satellites that include IRNSS-1I, IRNSS-1B, IRNSS-1C, IRNSS-1D, IRNSS-1E, IRNSS-1F, and IRNSS-1G. The atomic clock of IRNSS-1A stopped working, and the launch of IRNSS-1H has failed, which boils down to 7 satellites, instead of 8. Furthermore, there will be two more backup satellites for the constellation to be complete in the future.
In the future, we can find more satellites in the constellation with the indigenously designed atomic clocks to improve NavIC and offer more accuracy. Furthermore, NavIC works by implementing L5-Band and S-band that offers more accuracy at present than the GPS. Navigation using IRNSS will work by using 3 geostationary satellites, and 4 geosynchronous satellites, which are placed at higher orbits to reduce signal obstructions as much as possible.
Let’s now find out how exactly NavIC can be better and more accurate than GPS.
Talking about the number of satellites, GPS requires 24 satellites to work, and the additional 7 satellites are extras that can serve if one or more fail. Coming to NavIC, it has 7 satellites in the constellation. This might apparently make you feel, GPS is going to be more powerful and accurate than NavIC, but GPS is used for global positioning, whereas NavIC will cater only to India, and some parts beyond the political boundaries of India. That said, the 7 present satellites should offer better coverage and accuracy to the small part of the world compared to that of GPS that serves globally, as it is evident from the name.
The satellites that are used for GPS are placed in the Medium Earth Orbit, and it requires at least 4 satellites to communicate with the user for accurate positioning. The satellites used in IRNSS are placed in the higher geosynchronous orbits, and thus, all the 7 satellites will be within the view of the viewer on the ground within the target area that is limited to around 1,500 Km around the political boundary of India. Furthermore, as the satellites are placed almost vertically over India, this will also improve the signals in urban areas with big buildings.
Another big advantage of NavIC is that it uses dual bands, making it more accurate than that of the GPS system that uses only one band, and thus, GPS technology has to make compensations in case of errors, which is not the case with NavIC. The compensations made in GPS eventually degrades the performance in crowded areas, and on the flip side, the use of both the L-Band and the S-Band will improve the signaling in crowded areas, and at the same time, the accuracy can also be further improved in the future.
So, NavIC will obviously offer better coverage to people in India, and the parts of South Asia, which the new technology is targeted at.
Back during the Kargil war in the year 1999, the Pakistan military forces positioned themselves high in the mountains, and it was necessary for the Indian military to get the GPS data of the location and the region around the same. But, as GPS is a technology that is handled by US agencies, they denied sharing the information the Indian military needed. I will not go into detail about whether the USA did it right or wrong, as I can’t critically analyze diplomatic decisions.
But that’s when India felt the need to have an indigenous navigation system, for both the military, as well as the civilians. With NavIC, India will be self-sufficient, when it comes to navigation, and as IRNSS can collect the GPS data around 15,00 Km beyond the Indian political boundaries, India could always keep a constant eye on the boundaries and the line of control, and this will eventually enhance the security and privacy of the country, not only during war and other emergency situations but in other times, as well.
We are yet to see, whether NavIC will be as competent as GPS to offer coverage across the globe. But I really want to see NavIC to offer coverage across the globe, but that isn’t going to happen any time soon. Our dream of NavIC offering coverage across the globe can be true may be in the coming decade, or after a significant amount of time. I am pretty sure, ISRO will keep doing research in this aspect, and will also be successful in the coming attempts of making NavIC a global system.
In the near future, we could also find NavIC along with GPS, on our smartphones, as Qualcomm has signed a partnership with ISRO to integrate the NavIC-based navigation and tracking system, on the chipsets, alongside GPS and GLONASS. A few modern chipsets like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 720G, 730G, 662, 460, etc. already have support for NavIC. As it uses a different frequency band, which requires making changes in the hardware level, NavIC will not be compatible with older chipsets and hence the handsets, even with a software update.
India is now privileged as it is among the very few nations to have its own navigation and tracking system. That is yet another reason to again be proud of our own country. Do you have anything to say about the new NavIC system? Feel free to comment on the same below.