Mobile Providers Resisting Sos Alerts
Countries around the world are beginning to wake up to the advantages of using cellular broadcasting to warn cell phone users of imminent emergencies via text messaging. Cell broadcasting is a standard part of every GSM and CDMA digital phone network, yet is rarely utilized due to hesitation on the part of cell phone operators fearing government regulation, higher costs, and legal liability for false alarms.
Costs associated with the service cannot be recouped from cell phone users since cellular broadcasting relays text messages indiscriminately to every phone in a cell tower’s receiving area, usually about a two-mile radius, as long as phones are turned on.
South Korea in May become the first country to switch on a nationwide cellular-based emergency system, paying wireless operators for the service. The system has been used thus far to warn residents of heavy snow and other adverse conditions.
Holland in May became the first European nation to require cell operators to transmit text warnings from the government through cell broadcast; though only used in tests thus far, beginning Feb. 1 the Dutch national weather service will begin warning cell phone users of potential flooding and rising ocean tides in threatened areas.
“This is just the beginning,” says Mark Wood with the London-based Cellular Emergency Alert Systems Association, a group of engineers and software makers advocating cell broadcasting. “The technology exists in most phones today and is essentially free. It could have helped save lives, for example, in last year’s tsunami.”
Resistance from cell phone operators is the main reason why the idea has not caught on in the United States, though rural cell carrier Einstein PCS of Appleton, Wis., did test a broadcasting system in September and is considering installing one.
Tampa-based CellCast Communications is trying to reach agreements with rural cell phone carriers throughout the United States for the transmission of text messages from the U.S. Emergency Alert System. Other countries considering cellular broadcasting for emergency alerts include India, Malaysia, and Finland.
Abstracted by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center(NLECTC) from the International Herald Tribune (01/10/06); O’Brien, Kevin J.