Phone Mak­ers Press ‘Panic But­ton’ on GPS Direc­tive

Hand­set mak­ers say the fea­ture would raise cost of phones, hit­ting users at bot­tom of pyra­mid

The Economic Times - - Brands: Creating Desire - Gul­veen.Au­lakh@ times­

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.

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