The Indian government has reiterated the importance of including FM radio receivers in mobile phones sold in India.
“The FM Radio is one of the communication links between the authorities and people in remote areas during natural disasters in addition to other electronic means of communication inter-alia including cellular communication using mobile phones and television broadcasting,” the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) said on July 21 in the parliament, in response to questions posed by Rajya Sabha MP Jaggesh on the importance of radio feature on mobile phones.
In April this year, MeitY had issued an advisory to all phone manufacturers mandating them to ensure 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 and to include FM Radio receivers in phones that don’t have them.
The Ministry reasoned that the drastic fall in mobile phones with FM radio receivers affected “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.”
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“The availability of a vast network of FM transmitters and FM radio in the country played a key role in India’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Ministry noted in its advisory issued in April.
As per the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), “in times of emergencies and disaster, radio broadcasting is one of the most powerful and effective ways of delivering early warnings and alerting the public to save lives,” the Ministry cited.
Why does this matter: The advisory issued by the IT Ministry wasn’t clear on whether it wants companies to include radio receivers in smartphones as well or only feature phones, which are more used in rural and remote areas. Smartphones, especially higher-end models (like Apple iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, and Google Pixel), no longer include an FM radio receiver and instead allow users to listen to radio over the internet. It’s unlikely that these companies will start including a radio receiver only for their Indian models given the amount of extra work and cost that it requires in the manufacturing process as well as the extra space the radio receiver would take in the internals of the phone, which have already been used for some other function of feature.
It also is not clear whether FM radios are superior to mobile network coverage in terms of disaster. As revealed in the parliamentary response, “the coverage of All India Radio FM transmitters in the country is 59% by geographical area and 68% by population. Whereas, as informed by industry, mobile phone network has a geographical area coverage of approx. 95% and a population coverage of approx. 98%.” If mobile networks have a far superior coverage to FM radios, it’s not clear how the latter will be more useful during natural disasters.
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