18-06-2016 My Mobile
They have become an integral part of our lives and now cellphones could well prove to be our guardians too, with the Government announcing that every phone must have an in built panic button and global positioning system (GPS ) from January 1, 2017 and January 1, 2018 respectively.
Once considered a luxury, mobile phones are viewed as a necessity by many people today. So much so that the country has over a billion mobile phone connections and is considered the second biggest mobile market in the world after China. Perhaps this is why the Indian Government is trying to make mobile phones a means of personal safety.
Recently the Department of Telecom (Dot) had issued an order that all feature phones must have a panic button configured to the numeric key 5 or 9 while smartphones without the facility of emergency call button should either get a special button or use the existing power on or off button, activating panic mode when short pressed thrice in quick succession. As per the decision, police help will soon be available at the press of the panic button on mobile handset. The panic button simply is the device that the person activates when he or she needs help - it can be a message or a call - and which connects them automatically to the police and/or to one’s near and dear.
“Technology is solely meant to make human life better and what better than using it for the security of women, I have taken a decision that from 1st Jan, 2017, no cell phone can be sold without a provision for panic button and from 1st Jan 2018 mobile sets should have also GPS inbuilt,” said Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister of Communications and Information Technology, signing the order.
Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said the in-built system of panic button on mobiles for women’s safety is a “game changer”. “We finally managed to get the panic button. We have been working on it over the last two years. I spoke to the Prime Minister and he took it extremely seriously and immediately it has been done so we should give him credit for it,” she said.
The GPS challenge
However, the Indian Cellular Association (ICA), president, Pankaj Mohindroo said in a letter to telecom secretary JS Deepak, that “Implementation of GPS in new mobile handset will not be in the interest of consumers at the bottom of the pyramid.”
“We suggested for a re-look and to find an alternative way of ensuring a strong security architecture without disrupting the entry-level phone industry by building A-GPS architecture or leaving the technology architecture completely to the operators,” he said.
While the GPS component would cost up to $1, the required software and technical enhancement would raise the overall increase in cost of at least $4-6, ICA said, making the case for reconsideration. He also suggested ways of implementing the “SOS- Panic Button” on mobile handsets to be sold in India by adopting “112 – Emergency” button to invoke an emergency call on Indian Mobile Handsets.
Nitish Pande, Research Analyst, Devices and Ecosystem said, “Integration of panic button in smartphones won’t be that much critical, as just by tweaking software user can convert existing power key in panic button. Whereas, in new devices, a separate panic button can be available at the back panel near finger print sensor to achieve better ergonomic design. As compared to an app, physical key on device can give user ease of asking help at the time of emergency irrespective of any lags. But it may also increase chances of false alarms.
“Integration of GPS in mobile phones is a standard feature in Indian smartphone market. As far as smartphone are concerned, GPS will not increase the cost of device but for feature phones this integration may cause trouble. India is still feature phone driven and a price sensitive market. Currently there are very few feature phones from the price range of Rs.700-1000 which are GPS enabled. In order to offer GPS enabled feature phone manufacturers have to cross the Rs.1000-1500 price band,” he added.
Welcomed by the industry
Gaurav Nigam, Product Head, Lava International said, “It’s a great initiative by the Government of India to make it mandatory for all mobile phones to incorporate a panic button. In terms of functionality, this can be done via an app or a physical button on phone as well. That said, a physical button will definitely serve as a quick access and will end up saving those valuable seconds in any eventualities faced at the users’ end.”
“This is a great initiative and we aim to introduce safety features which include software tweaks with minimal or no implications on the device cost,” replied Shashin Devasare, Executive Director- Karbonn Mobiles.
Similarly Allen Wang, President, Consumer Business Group, Huawei India, said: “We welcome Government’s directive to make panic button mandatory for all mobiles phones. Our R&D team in Bangalore is working towards embedding the new feature in all the upcoming batches of all Huawei and Honor smartphones and all previously sold phones will be able to avail the feature by updating the software.” On increase cost he explained that “the cost increase will depend on manufacturer to manufacturer .All our Honor and Huawei smartphones are enabled with GPS features.” Micromax also welcomed the announcement. A statement by the company said that the “individual’s safety and security should be the utmost priority and one of the most critical function of a mobile handset.”
Syed Tajuddin, CEO, Coolpad India told us that “this is too early to push brands to make changes because global positioning of devices and redesigning takes a lot of time and resources.” He feels that “initially the Government should allow to go with software.”
A new emergency number
Even as all this has been happening, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has approved the provision of a single number for various emergency services that would be similar to the 911 all-in-one emergency service in the US.The service will also be accessible even through those SIMs and landlines whose outgoing call facility has been stopped or temporarily suspended. The single emergency number 112 will be operational throughout India from January 1, 2017 to help people reach immediate services of police, ambulance and fire department.
The mobile phone is well on way to becoming a protector as well as a communicator, it seems.