Billions of phones can't run Google and Apple contact-tracing apps

covid-19 coronavirus crowd phone
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Apple and Google's upcoming smartphone-based contact-tracing system will be unavailable on as many as 2bn mobile phones according to new estimates from industry researchers.

As reported by The Financial Times, the system will allow mobile phone users to track whether or not they have come into contact with anyone infected with the coronavirus which will help prevent Covid-19 from spreading further.

However, Apple and Google's new system relies on specific wireless chips and software that are missing from hundreds of millions of older smartphones that are still in use today. This means that those still using older smartphones will be unable to use the system which could make them more susceptible to becoming infected.

Analyst at CSS Insight, Ben Wood explained to The Financial Times how those using older smartphones or feature phones will be unable to use the contact-tracing system that could arrive as early as next month, saying:

“The underlying technology limitation is around the fact that there are still some phones in use that won’t have the necessary Bluetooth or latest operating system. If you are in a disadvantaged group and have an old device or a [basic] feature phone, you will miss out on the benefits that this app could potentially offer.”

Contact-tracing system

Apple and Google's new system will use Bluetooth to exchange anonymous identifier beacons with those they've come into contact with. If someone does become infected with Covid-19, the system will then use these beacons to notify everyone they have come into contact with to self-isolate to prevent the disease from spreading further.

The system relies on Bluetooth Low Energy chips to detect proximity between devices without taxing their battery life. However, these chips are nowhere to be found in a quarter of the smartphones that are used today according to Counterpoint Research. Additionally, 1.5bn people use basic or feature phones that will also be unable to take advantage of Apple and Google's contact-tracing system.

While the tech giants' new system may not be able to be installed on all of the smartphones in operation today, it could still be a huge help in flattening the curve by preventing new infections.

Via The Financial Times

Anthony Spadafora

After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.