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With the launch of seven satellites, Isro’s aim of giving India its own version of the Global Positioning System (GPS) was realised and the NavIC is very much operational. However, indigenously developed systems to tap data from this constellation and to take it to lakhs of Indians through a variety of applications are not yet ready.
While a Bengaluru-based firm, Accord Software and Systems Private Limited, along with Isro developed technology that can receive signals from the IRNSS satellites, compute location and also decode its broadcast message as early as 2016, it is only useful for agencies and organisations.
Also, Isro has already developed a micro chipset to be used for navigation purpose and designed a miniaturised version of the micro chipset to be used in navigation devices. The space agency is also working on chipsets for very small navigation devices.
However, the industry is yet to mass produce these receivers and chipsets, given that there is no apparent demand as most users prefer GPS.
Also, technology as seamless as the ones used to tap GPS is not yet ready, and Isro chairman S Sivan has reiterated that it is now for the industry to make the best use of the applications the constellation can provide. The IRNSS provides applications like alerts to fishermen, helping security agencies track and follow, and a set of wide range of applications in science, road transports, aviation, geophysics, financial services, survey and mapping, et al.
Read also: How US govt sparked need for a desi-GPS
Although the Centre and local governments are already using this technology to provide alerts to fishermen — multiple pilot studies are ongoing in states like Tamil Nadu — and the Indian Air Force (IAF) is committed to using it in its fighter, the uses of IRNSS is yet to reach the daily lives of citizens.
And, one of the biggest challenge being faced is to convince mobile phone makers to replace the GPS chipsets they install in phones with those that can tap IRNSS signals. Accord, and a few other stakeholders are working on chipsets that can be put inside a mobile phone.
Experts pointed out that since most mobile phones get hardware from China — where it is mass produced for phones that are eventually used by people across the globe — convincing firms to produce separate batches for India may impact the cost, prompting mobile phone companies to retain GPS.
In fact, in March this year,
a CAG report
+ criticised the government for not being able to make NavIC completely operational. Although the space segment is ready, the CAG observed, NavIC remains non-operational because the ground segment is not ready. The CAG feared that this may render the satellite idle.