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GSMA suggests mobile carriers bake contact-tracing into their own apps – if governments ask for it

Working group already probing Bluetooth performance on myriad devices to help developers

The GSM Association, the body that represents mobile carriers and influences the development of standards, has suggested its members bake virus contact-tracing functionality into their own bundled software.

The body today popped out a paper [PDF] on contact-tracing apps. After some unremarkable observations about the need for and operations of such apps, plus an explanation of the centralised vs. centralised data storage debate, the paper offers members a section titled: “How the mobile industry can help.”

That section suggests carriers could help to improve the reach of and disseminate such apps with the following three tactics:

  • Integrate software into own apps (e.g. customer self-care app), if this is part of the national strategy
  • Pre-install on devices
  • Communicate to / educate subscribers

The first item may prove unworkable given Google and Apple have indicated they’ll only register coronavirus-related apps if they’re developed by governments and their health agencies. The two tech giants have also said they’ll only allow one app per jurisdiction to use their pro-privacy COVID-19 contact-tracing interface. The second suggestion also has potential pitfalls as contact-tracing apps are generally opt-in affairs. Carriers would need to be sensitive about how they are installed and the user experience offered if the apps ask for registration.

The paper also reveals that the Association’s Terminal Steering Working Group is “supporting work to gather device-specific Bluetooth calibration parameters from a broad reach of handset manufacturers and to provide this to all such initiatives to improve app performance.”

The document also suggests carriers talk to contact-tracing developers to “mitigate the data volume challenge” by facilitating Wi-Fi offloading and to “ensure that the devices spread the communication across the whole day evenly.”

The latter sounds like a suggestion that carriers could delay transmission of some contact-tracing app data. Hopefully not the critical notifications that somebody has tested positive to COVID-19? ®

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