Telematics key component of emergency apps

Clever use of telematics, intuitive user interface, and collaboration with mobile carriers among key factors behind a successful emergency app, say industry watchers.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

A good emergency app usually makes clever use of telematics, where software leverages on device capabilities such as GPS, note market watchers, who add it should also incorporates environmental considerations in the design.

Telematics is the integrated use of telecommunications and informatics, and is the technology behind emergency apps, said Serene Chan, industry analyst of ICT Practice at Frost & Sullivan.

"Although the emergency app provides the system, the smartphone has to come with the telematics functionality and most smartphones today are designed with built-in GPS receivers, which is at present the main telematics technology used for smartphones," she added, noting that the GPS functionality was just one example.

The network used for communicating between an emergency app and a call center are the standard 3G and 4G mobile networks, she added. This is unlike what is used for emergency calls, Chan explained.

"As for the emergency calls on phone, it is more of a phone feature and a regulatory requirement rather than the technology. The laws in most mature markets require mobile carriers to allow subscribers to make emergency calls like 911 even if users have not paid or top up their phone bills. The emergency call option is a feature found in a number of smartphones," said the analyst.

Good network ultimately important
As such, having a good network is important for emergency apps, Nova Eskolin, global business director of ROA Holdings added. The Korea-based analyst stated that in his country, mobile phone-based emergency apps support 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi networks but there are no special cases where apps can be supported under low mobile coverage.

She cited that 112, a South Korea emergency app for youths aged 19 and below, a report with the user's location is automatically sent to the nearest police station with the launch of the application.

Mikkel Dissing, managing director of emergency app PanicGuard, however, told ZDNet Asia that his app was able to work in the background even without connectivity or network.

"This is useful in sudden situations when the user is confused and unable to think clearly in situations such as being confronted by a criminal in a dark alley."
-- Nova Eskolin,
global business director,
ROA Holdings

According to Dissing, all the smart technology resides on the server rather than the phone, which simply acts as a "tracker and evidence gatherer"--an alert is sent to the server which then does the emergency alert for the victim. The alert and video evidence, however, will only be uploaded once the phone has data connection, he added.

"By doing things this way we ensure that we have a solution which relies less on the phone, as that sometimes can be a little 'unstable'," he said.

App must work in quietude, with speed
Emergency apps are designed to work in sensitive and potentially dangerous situations, and therefore must be able to work silently, such as when the victim does not want the potential attacker to know that they have raised an alert, Dissing pointed out.

Eskolin agreed that most emergency apps allow users to report emergency situations quietly. She cited that the Korean police station recently developed a smartphone app which automatically identifies the user's location by waving the phone a few times, and sending SMS-based SOS alerts to the person registered in the user's phone.

"This is useful in sudden situations when the user is confused and unable to think clearly in situations such as being confronted by a criminal in a dark alley," she said.

Speed is also necessary, and all alerts must be designed to be sent instantly, because time is extremely crucial in an emergency situation, Dissing added. He cited that with PanicGuard, the main technology is kept on the secure server because phones may not be able to perform the sending of alerts due to low network coverage, and video evidence is gathered in real-time and streamed to the servers.

What emergency application developers can do is to coordinate with mobile carriers to deliver the required quality of service to consumers, Chan added.

For instance, she noted, the data channel must recognize signals which come from an emergency app so that the incoming data will be given top priority in the transmission network over other data.

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