Phone Makers Press ‘Panic Button’ on GPS Directive
Handset makers say the feature would raise cost of phones, hitting users at bottom of pyramid
New Delhi: Handset makers have opposed the government’s move mandating global positioning system (GPS) on feature phones, arguing it would hit users at the lowest level as the cost of basic phones would go up by .₹ 400 — a massive increase in a market where the cheapest device is available for .₹ 500.
The additional cost would wipe out the entry-level feature phone segment and potentially take away basic connectivity from millions of consumers, handset makers said, a day after the government issued a directive mandating all mobile phones to have an inbuilt GPS to identify the handset user's location from January 2018. “Implementation of GPS in new mobile handset will not be in the interest of consumers at the bottom of the pyramid,” said Indian Cellular Association (ICA) president Pankaj Mohindroo in a letter to telecom secretary JS Deepak, a copy of which was seen by ET. “We suggest this particular aspect may be relooked at,” he said, suggesting telecom-operator based security architecture, called A-GPS or Alternative GPS, as
another way for security agencies to track consumers in need. While the GPS component would cost up to .₹ 66.7 ($1), the required software and technical enhancement would raise the overall increase in cost of at least .₹ 266 to .₹ 400 ($4-6), the association that represents handset makers said.
It argued that at a time when India is poised to be the global manufacturing hub for feature phones, more so for entry-level segment, the cost increase “will knockout the entry level feature phone segment”. Despite the eventual drop in volume as consumers would migrate to smartphones, feature phone volume will continue to sustain at 100 million units even after 2019, the association added. The Department of Telecom (DoT) on Monday necessitated all new pho- nes to have GPS from January 2018 and all new feature phones and smartphones sold in the country from January 2017, to also have a panic button feature that will allow women in distress to seek help. While numeric keys 5 and 9 were identified as push buttons for an emergency in feature phone handsets, in smartphones, manufacturers will have to provide an ‘emergency’ button or a facility to send an alert by short-pressing the power button thrice in quick succession.
Having worked on it for the last two years, women and child development Minister Maneka Gandhi on Tuesday said the in-built system of panic button is a “game changer”, as women across the country, including rural areas now have access to phones.
Executives at leading handset makers said that implementing of the panic button would require software changes, which can be easily done, and some have already started the process. “We are already working on incorporating the panic button, and should be able to meet the timelines prescribed by the ministry,” said Sanjay Kumar Kalirona, head-mobile business, Intex Technologies.
The 2017 timeline will also give ample time for the industry to implement the panic button facility. “We would be compliant with all government regulations,” said Manu Jain, India head of Xiaomi.
Calls emanating from the button may go to number ‘112’, which has been designated as the national emergency number.