Qualcomm adds support for ISRO’s NavIC positioning system

IRNSS schematic diagram | Source: ISRO

In a big boost to Indian space technology and ISRO, Qualcomm, the world’s biggest independent provider of cellphone processors, has agreed to support Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) on some of its chipsets.

The move will help these mobile phones use IRNSS-NavIC for pinpointing their location. This will be in addition to the current location technology, which uses US-based GPS, as well as local clues such as mobile tower co-ordinates and Wifi data.

NavIC-enabled chipsets will start shipping late this year and commercial devices with NavIC support are expected to be available during the first half of 2020, Qualcomm said.

At present, IRNSS — which also incorporates an SMS-like one-way messaging system — is widely used by auto-trackers and other device makers.

However, ISRO has been keen to get into mobile phones, and has been talking to Qualcomm and Broadcom for some time.

Qualcomm and Broadcom are expected to be important players in the Internet-of-Things space, which will require exact geolocation information for effective functioning. Typically Indian solutions, such as IRNSS, cost a fraction of what their western equivalents cost.

Qualcomm Tech said the move to include the technology in select chipsets will help accelerate the adoption of NavIC and enhance the geolocation capabilities of mobile, automotive and the Internet of Things (IoT) solutions in the region.

“The collaboration delivered the first-ever NavIC demonstration using the Qualcomm Snapdragon Mobile Platforms on September 19th and are scheduled to showcase the solution again at India Mobile Congress, October 14-16,” it said.

It said Qualcomm Location Suite now supports up to seven satellite constellations concurrently, including the use of all of NavIC’s operating satellites for more accurate location performance, faster time-to-first-fix (TTFF) position acquisition, and improved robustness of location-based services.

“These enhancements will enable select mobile, automotive and IoT platforms to better serve key industries and technology ecosystems in the region and will help improve user experience for location-based applications especially in dense urban environments where geolocation accuracy tends to degrade,” it said.

India has so far launched seven location-providing satellites, and one messaging satellite as part of IRNSS, and will function largely in the Indian region.

In comparison, China’s BeiDou-3 navigation system will comprise 35 satellites by next year and operate across the world.

Other satellite navigation systems include Russia’s GLONASS and Europe’s Galileo. Most cellphones already come with support for GLONASS, which is used with GPS to further pinpoint the device’s location.

However, ISRO is also looking at one-way, broadcast messaging, in addition to navigation. This would enable IRNSS-enabled vehicles to display news and advertisements, in addition to location data.

“NavIC is a critical step forward in our pursuit of harnessing space technology for national development and we are eager to make it accessible to everyone for their day to day use,” said Dr. K Sivan, Chairman, ISRO and Secretary, Department of Space.

“ISRO appreciates Qualcomm Technologies for enabling the technology demonstration of NavIC support on mobile platform for the very first time.”