Jul 12, 2016

Panic buttons in mobiles: Is the government even serious about this?

BYRamarko Sengupta

The government’s directive to mobile phone manufacturers to install “panic buttons” in all mobile phones, new and old, is unlikely to meet its deadline of January 1, 2017. While on paper, it sounds like a great initiative, implementation is the key. And thus far, it mostly seems like lip service and showboating on the government’s part. (Read: Panic buttons in cellphones alone will do nothing for women’s safety in India)
In April, the government announced that it wanted all mobile phone makers to add a “panic button” to every handset they sell in the country from January 1, 2017 to improve “women’s safety”. The order states that pressing the panic button will trigger a call to the single emergency number ‘112’, which is to be operational from January 1, 2017 as well. All mobiles sold after January 1, 2018 must also be GPS-enabled, the government said.
“The government has just handed out a one-paragraph brief and beyond that there is no clarity. Honestly, I am quite nervous about this panic button thing,” the global product head of a leading phone maker, who did not wish to be named, said. The January 2017 deadline will most likely be missed, he added.
Following the April directive, last month the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) directed all mobile phone makers to install a software patch in all handsets at retail outlets to provide for a panic-button feature. “… it is requested to install the software patch(es) in existing mobile phone handsets in the country for implementation of feature/facilities of panic button,” the DoT order said.
The software patch will work like a panic button and at the press of ‘9’ or ‘5’ will generate a call to single emergency telephone number ‘112’, the order said.
“End-to-end detailing has not happened and unless that is in place you will not know the technical specifications. It’s not complicated, but the issue is integration with the system. However, there has been no clarity on it,” Faisal Kawoosa, Lead Analyst at CMR’s Telecom Practice said. Kawoosa also believes that implementation will get delayed.
“Usually, there’s not much clarity on such directives. When the deadline is near, they generally extend it. The intention is to see what smartphone makers come up with in the stipulated period of time. Personally, I feel the implementation is likely to get delayed by 3-6 months,” OnePlus India’s general manager Vikas Agarwal said.
However, it is not likely to be a challenge for OnePlus so much because they have fewer devices, and it’s easier for them to incorporate new regulations since they don’t have a multi-segment presence, Agarwal said.
Chinese phonemaker Xiaomi said the company is studying the directive in detail and discussing it with the government.
It is also a no-brainer that this initiative will involve expenses on the phone makers’ part. When implemented, India will probably be the first country in the world to have such a feature on its phones.

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Ramarko Sengupta is a writer of FactorDaily.