Australia reviews standards after handphone glitch

A software fault which compromised users' ability to dial emergency numbers from a new mobile handset has prompted a major review of the standards phones are required to meet before being sold in Australia.

A software fault which compromised users' ability to dial emergency numbers from a new mobile handset has prompted a major review of the standards for phones to be sold in Australia.

The fault, identified by the telephone manufacturer Panasonic, blocked some users from gaining access to the 000 or 112 emergency telephone numbers. The Australian Commmunications Authority (ACA), which sets the relevant standards, has initiated a review to avoid a repeat occurence.

The Panasonic GD68 was made available under a sole supplier deal with Optus. Although it passed tests by Optus, glitches would occur when SIM (subscriber identification module) cards from other mobile operators are inserted.

With Telstra and Vodaphone cards, the phone is unable to interpret the network signal and would shut itself off when users attempt to dial either emergency numbers 000 or 112 as the first number after switching on the handset.

This has prompted both a voluntary recall from Panasonic and action from the ACA. John Vardanega, the manager of telecommunications standards for the regulator, told ZDNet Australia a recommendation for an amendment would be sent to the Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF) working committee that new mobiles be tested with SIM cards from all carriers.

"They develop a new standard or amendment by consensus of a working party of industry groups, and put out a final copy for public comment for at least 60 days," said Vardanega on the process for new standards. "The public comment is impacted on the draft, which then goes to the ACIF board for approval. They then refer it to the ACA to be made formal under the heads of power."

The long-winded process and necessity for public comment meant it would probably be at least six months before the amended standards are enforced, according to Vardanega. He added the hitch is a one-off incident.

Carli Wilson, product manager for mobile communications for Panasonic, told ZDNet Australia the fault was discovered during interoperability testing by other network providers.

According to Wilson, the flaw only affects handsets delivered to Australia in October, and a recall for software upgrade was initiated upon discovering the hiccup.

Customers have generally reacted positively to the upgrade. "By collecting the phones for upgrade then having them returned to the customer by courier, we're trying hard to minimize the need for customers to travel to service centers, or to be inconvenienced for long periods of time," Wilson said.

ZDNet Australia's James Pearce reported from Sydney.