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United Nations: For pity's sake don't use your iPhone in your car

Just 9 mobes from a year ago can be trusted, says ITU

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU, the telecoms agency of the United Nations) has published a very short whitelist of mobile phones that are properly compatible with car kits.

The phones have been tested to an exacting specification which defines the mechanical mouth used, the mechanical ear and brings scientific rigour to the measurements. The ITU covers both Narrowband and Wideband in separate documents each of over 100 pages. The testing used a network simulator and looked to check that handsets obeyed the protocol for working with car kits by switching off all digital signal processing. This leaves the car’s hardware to do the audio jiggery-pokery.

No cars are used in these tests. The listed phones (and the others which failed to make the list) were Bluetooth connected to a Bluetooth reference interface, in this case a commercially available HEAD Acoustics interface.

The ITU rules the world's communications. It sets the global standards. There are around 2,000 committees, groups and associations currently kvetching about what 5G will or won’t be, but it will be the ITU which decides. The organisation has more gravitas than Morgan Freeman speaking at Gandhi’s Funeral.

So we were a little surprised when we called up the list.

Nine phones.

None of them Apple, and two of them tested twice with different software revisions. It looks as though they just tested what they had lying around the office, when we queried this we were told that the sponsoring automotive manufacturers supplied the phones. So here in full is the list of the phones the ITU says work well in a car:

1. Blackberry Q10

2. Blackberry Z10

3. Blackberry Z30

4. HTC One M8

5. LG G2

6. Motorola Moto G

7. Samsung S5

8. Sony Ericsson W880i

9. Sony Xperia Z1

The ITU says that only 30 percent of the phones it tested passed. The organisation hasn’t named and shamed the failures. It does say:

“The worst performing phones showed some serious defects: some causing significantly distorted speech, others completely failing to acknowledge connection to a vehicle’s HFT. Quality degradation of this extent has led to customer complaints to automakers, and experts assert that such performance could give rise to safety risks by encouraging drivers to handle their phones while driving”.

We called the ITU to ask which phones had failed and were told that this information was under NDA. It would however be sensible to assume that all market leading phones were tested.

The testing took place in February 2014, which explains why they are such old models. Details were published a little later but with the information anonymised – the list naming the phones which passed the test has only just been published.

Data that is more than a year old is no use to anyone thinking about which phone to buy.

The obvious flakiness of this “research” hasn’t stopped the ITU from being ebullient about the project.

“The entrance of nomadic devices into vehicles must be managed in such a way that it does not compromise the comfort and safety of drivers,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “Central to this objective will be improving the compatibility of phones with hands-free terminals in vehicles, and ITU is working to achieve this by encouraging cooperation on this important topic between the automotive and ICT industries.”

The ITU white list is a laudable idea but with many thousands of phones and software releases the task is going to need a lot more resources. ®

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