TRAI, India's telecom board announced that any phone without a dedicated 'panic' button would not be allowed to go on sale in the Indian market, starting January 1, 2017. Another provision that mobile phone makers would have to make is the compulsory addition of GPS and location services on their handsets, which has a deadline of January 1, 2018.
These new regulations have been added in to ensure the safety of women (only women?) in India, however sexist that statement might seem. The government and the TRAI claimed that it took a lot of convincing to get all the OEMs on board and with mutual agreement; these modifications will come into place.
The new decision is something that is quite peculiar in these times of smartphone evolution. When companies are switching over to devices with no buttons at all, the government wants them to take a step back.
Here are some of the details of the new TRAI regulations, let's dive a bit deeper and find out the facts.
What describes a 'Panic' button?
The advisory clearly signifies that no mobile phone firm can legally sell, "feature phones without the facility of panic button by pressing 'numeric key - 5' or 'numeric key - 9' to invoke emergency call" OR "smartphones without the facility of emergency call button by pressing the same for long time to invoke emergency call or the use of existing power on or off button, when short pressed thrice in quick succession."
Making sense of the advisory
Let's leave feature phones aside and talk about smartphones. Their market share in India is growing rapidly and soon the majority of devices in India will be smartphones. The government wants companies to incorporate a special button onto their sleek smartphones just for Indian markets? Keep in mind; most of these firms operate in multiple countries, heck a lot of them aren't even from India.
Let's try to understand the government's absurd order with some sense. What if OEMs do in fact agree to put a panic button on their smartphones, is there a special police team that will be waiting for such emergencies? If these buttons are used to just contact the customer care, what good is it doing than just dialing 100 on the number pad? It hardly takes more time than this new
The curious case of feature phones
Yes, smartphones are a big matter of concern when it comes to the addition of a panic button. But, feature phones is where the issue of economies to scale lies. Thankfully, the emergency button can be easily incorporated as such phones have a lot of physical keys. But what about GPS? The government wants GPS location services on 'ALL' phones by 2018. A hundred percent of the smartphones sold in India have such a band fitted in them, something that comes at a significant cost. Feature phones sell at around the Rs. 1,000-1,500 price range and placing a special GPS chip will escalate costs to at least 2x the price. This ensures that citizens from lower income groups won't be able to afford it, a clear violation of free market operations.
The magnitude of issues
India is the second biggest market for mobile phones globally and the number is estimated at anywhere around 700 million till the end of 2015. If each and every phone in the country is equipped with this so-called panic button, does that ensure the government is matching the increased demand with police force supply? What if there is someone pressing the button but no one at the other side to actually attend to it?
The intent of the plan is commendable, no doubt, but execution is always key, Admit it, India has never been about great execution (pun intended) and the hammer always falls upon the law and order machinery in the system. Concerned with women's safety, this is a bold move but a better and clearer explanation will be needed to make it a practical move towards crime resolution.