2 billion phones will not support COVID-19 contact tracing

Posted on Tuesday, Apr 21 2020 @ 13:25 CEST by Thomas De Maesschalck
Returning life to normal after the coronavirus crisis will be a massive challenge. With no cure or vaccine within reach, most governments are drawing up exit plans that focus on extensive testing, intermittent lockdowns, and contact tracing. Besides physical contact tracing, a lot of countries are considering smartphone apps that can make it easy to inform you if you've been in close contact with a confirmed coronavirus patient.

Unfortunately, it appears a lot of smartphones do not have the necessary technology to support this. ARS Technica writes about 2 billion phones that are still in use will not be able to use the contact tracing cooked up by Google and Apple.

Out of 3.5 billion phones in active use globally today, about 1.5 billion will not be able to use these apps because they are basic phones that do not run iOS or Android. An additional 500 million phones do use iOS or Android, but will not be able to support the app because they lack the necessary Bluetooth low-energy technology. Adding it all together, about 2 billion mobile users will not be able to use the digital contact tracing, most of them being from more vulnerable segments of the population:
The particular kind of Bluetooth “low energy” chips that are used to detect proximity between devices without running down the phone’s battery are absent from a quarter of smartphones in active use globally today, according to analysts at Counterpoint Research. A further 1.5 billion people still use basic or “feature” phones that do not run iOS or Android at all.

“In all, close to 2 billion [mobile users] will not be benefiting from this initiative globally,” said Neil Shah, analyst at Counterpoint. “And most of these users with the incompatible devices hail from the lower-income segment or from the senior segment which actually are more vulnerable to the virus.”

About the Author

Thomas De Maesschalck

Thomas has been messing with computer since early childhood and firmly believes the Internet is the best thing since sliced bread. Enjoys playing with new tech, is fascinated by science, and passionate about financial markets. When not behind a computer, he can be found with running shoes on or lifting heavy weights in the weight room.

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