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India calls for all mobile phones to include FM radios

Where feature phones remain prevalent, Spotify is not an option and the 'net is little use in an emergency

India's Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has issued an advisory reminding mobile phone manufacturers they should include an FM radio tuner in their products.

Yes, you read that right: an FM radio.

"It has been brought to the notice of the Ministry that during the last 4/5 years there is a drastic fall in mobile phones with FM tuners feature, thereby affecting not only the ability of the poor to get free FM radio services, but also the Government's ability to disseminate real-time information during emergencies, disasters and calamities," states the advisory [PDF].

The document next cites International Telecommunications Union advice about radio broadcasts being an excellent medium for communicating far and wide during emergencies, adding: "The availability of vast network of FM transmitters and FM radio in the country played a key role in India's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In view of the above, it should be ensured that wherever the mobile phone is equipped with an inbuilt FM radio receiver function or feature, that function or feature is not disabled or deactivated but is kept enabled/activated in the mobile phone.

"Further, it is advised that if the FM radio receiver function or feature is not available in the mobile phones, it may be included."

The advisory ends with a call for the Indian Cellular and Electronics Association and Manufacturers' Association for Information Technology to share the document with their members.

To understand this circular, note that it refers to "mobile phones" and not "smartphones." The distinction matters in India, where feature phones remain common – IDC recently reported 57 million of the devices shipped in India during 2022, compared to 201 million smartphones.

India’s biggest mobile carrier, Jio, offers a feature phone and a year of free calls for ₹1499 – about $18.30. That's an affordable sum for many Indians and an indicator that Jio's ₹4999 ($61) smartphone is out of reach for many.

India's mobile data networks also don't yet cover the entire nation, making a smartphones of limited use in many locations.

Note also that the advisory mentions the possible deactivation of FM radios. While the radio chipsets used in phones can handle many frequencies, including those used by FM, many handset manufacturers may have chosen not to enable the function in the silicon they employ.

MeitY's call for manufacturers to include FM radios in their hardware is therefore recognition that they are needed – by Indian consumers, and to assist with emergencies. And that with a little care, India's feature phones can be made more useful without imposing a formal regulatory requirement on manufacturers. ®

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