Countries across the world are building tracing apps to deal with coronavirus. Apple and Google have just released the first preview of its Bluetooth based contact-tracing app. India also released its “Aarogya Setu” app for smartphones that has already raked-in 75 million downloads.
Now, the Indian government is planning to build a COVID-19 contact-tracing app that will work on the feature phones that don’t have Bluetooth and run on the 2G network. The reason behind this decision is the fact that India has a huge 550 million feature phone users in comparison to 450 million smartphone users.
The Aarogya Setu app uses Bluetooth to detect other devices that come into close proximity. But according to Navkendar Singh, a research director at IDC India, “the majority of feature phones (in the country) are not data-enabled, and most have no Bluetooth or GPS capability.”
One big challenge with the existing feature phones is figuring out a way to install the contact tracing app on them. This is because these basic phones don’t have GPS support and even if they do, it is next to impossible to add new apps on them.
This leaves the app developers to conduct a location tracking at a network level, that is on 2G and 3G networks. But again, the location data gathered in this scenario might not be particularly accurate.
Some states in India are said to have attempted network-level tracing, but the efficiency of the same is not known.
Nevertheless, the IT minister of India, Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad says that building a contact tracing app for feature phones is feasible and that the project is under-development.
Every state highly appreciated the #AarogyaSetu app and shared their thoughts on it.
I have assured them that a similar solution for feature phones is being developed and will be launched very soon. pic.twitter.com/Z6VQOPfmcx
— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) April 28, 2020
If India’s efforts to create a contact tracing app for feature phones become fruitful, it would be a great achievement for the entire world. Because more than one-fourth of the mobile phones in the world, which is about 1.5 billion in total, don’t have Bluetooth functionality.
Such phones are mostly found in countries that do not have a robust health system, hence, they are likely to benefit more through the app.