NAVIC, India’s indigenous satellite navigation system, the details of which are discussed in a previous piece, can have significant consumer benefits. Rapidly declining average selling prices of smartphones have led the Internet and Mobile Association of India to estimate about 371 million mobile Internet users by June 2016 in its latest report. Mobile Internet cost is also expected to drastically come down post the introduction of 4G networks. Therefore, NAVIC’s success in replacing Global Positioning System (GPS), the most popular navigation service in the Indian market currently, shall depend on its ease of integration with third-party smartphone apps.
Since the revenue from navigation services in India in 2016 amounted to $53.3 million, and is projected by Statista to grow at an annual rate of 31.79%, NAVIC’s operational launch can result in healthy competition between various navigation services, and potentially significant revenues for the country. India can combine NAVIC with GAGAN—its indigenous augmentation system—to service users on differential rates depending on the navigational precision they seek.
While NAVIC’s accuracy is currently lower than GPS’s, it could well make up for this with its higher sturdiness to erratic weather conditions. NAVIC leads on this score because it accesses frequency bands that are less volatile to changes in ionospheric properties. Apps that rely on satellite navigation services for location, timing and navigation—pretty much spanning the spectrum of economic activity from mobility solutions to agriculture, and from location-based advertising to delivery of medicines—can now make conscious choices and trade-offs as regards the kind of support they require. Interestingly, one such trade-off hinges on the domestic regulatory frameworks governing each of these navigation systems. Competitive advantages built around regulations, particularly in the areas of labour and environment are quite common, but in the context of NAVIC, the debate is much more nuanced than simply choosing between weaker and stronger regulations.
Broadly, regulatory competitiveness in the case of navigation services can be infused in three different ways: liability for navigational errors; open innovation possibilities using the navigation platform; and safeguards that enhance reliability and trust in the navigational system. These merit separate consideration.
On the liability front, the navigation service can be made liable both contractually and under tort law. Because GPS was built on open access to all, with no differential services except for military and civilian purposes, no specific contracts were executed. NAVIC should go for a more differential access model with customized contracts for higher precision services, and consider assumption of contractual liability for navigational errors. This will provide indemnity options to consumer-facing app developers who are willing to pay for better navigation.
Coming to tortious liability, the US has waived liability for claims arising out of civilian use of the navigation system through its Foreign Claims Act and the Federal Torts Claims Act. Thanks to the former enactment, the substantial use of GPS by foreign entities comes at no cost in terms of liability to the US government. The latter Act makes the government immune from liability for any injury, loss of property or life caused by the negligence of government employees when acting within the scope of their employment. System failures and non-intentional action are exempt from liability because this Act expects tortious claims to be directed against specific individual action, and only against acts of negligence.
The Indian government should, in contrast, consider the option of actively assuming liability for NAVIC’s navigational errors. Counter-intuitive as this may sound, voluntary assumption of liability can both signal confidence in the system as well as offer a competitive advantage for the adoption of NAVIC over GPS. When doing so, it has to consider whether such liability should extend to foreign users, whether the liability must be absolute or fault-based, and the error parameters for which it will assume such liability.
India should exploit its control over the degree of access offered by NAVIC to regulate rather than restrict the creation of maps, and thus gain competitive advantage over NAVIC’s open innovation possibilities. This service offers, to a considerable extent, a technological fix for a problem India has been grappling with for long—restricting access to sensitive locations. India’s proposed solution, the Geospatial Bill, is a highly restrictive one, built on an unworkable licence permit mechanism. This bill overtly restricts the real-time updating and modification of maps that technology currently enables. Instead, India should consider permitting NAVIC users to create customized maps that improvise the NAVIC map data for their specific needs, without any separate licences for this purpose. This preferential open innovation model can spur NAVIC’s adoption and secure Indian interests in terms of limited access to sensitive locations.
Finally, navigation systems come with their own vulnerabilities, particularly because of potential jamming of signals. Because NAVIC is new, India may have a higher shot at success in effectively policing the manufacture and sale of jamming devices and penalizing those who do so without valid authorization. In addition, the government can also potentially enhance NAVIC adoption by introducing a strong data protection regime made applicable statutorily or even contractually to developers who gain customer location data through NAVIC. These measures increase its reliability and build trust, both of which are factors integral to the widespread adoption of any technological solution.