Cell Broadcast: Test alert on December 8th on all smartphones

An December 8th at 11 am sharp, for the first time in the history of mobile communications, all mobile phones in Germany will ring at the same time. Because the federal government wants to test a new disaster warning system called Cell Broadcast for the first time.

Cell broadcast is neither an SMS nor a call, but rather a kind of all-round message that reaches all devices in the network at the same time – regardless of whether they are registered with Vodafone, O₂ or Telekom, regardless of whether they are muted or not, regardless of the data volume enough.

“The system works like this: the competent authorities are informed about disasters and determine an area for which the warning applies,” explains mobile operator Vodafone. “They transmit this information to the mobile network operator and send the warning message as a text message via the mobile network to the mobile phone customer’s end device.”

Read more about disaster alerts

About all warning multipliers, as it is called in the German authorities, the population should be put on Thursday in the alarm mood as a test

Terror, natural disasters, meltdown

What is relevant here is that the mobile network is not overloaded – that would be different if, for example, each telephone was contacted individually by SMS. Because then the news – similar to every year on New Year’s Eve at midnight – would only be played out with a delay thanks to network overload.

“Unlike an SMS, but similar to radio, all devices that are registered in the radio cells of the respective region receive the warning message – hence the name cell broadcast. Depending on the warning level, the devices even emit a warning tone in silent mode,” explains Vodafone.

Unlike with SMS or warning apps, not every phone has to be addressed individually via the Internet, which is why the bottleneck of the Internet connection of the radio cells in the mobile network is avoided. In addition, users do not have to install an app beforehand. The technology has been in use for some time in neighboring European countries as well as in the USA.

Source: dpa; Infographic WORLD

Only the test will show how well the new system works. The world called the result of the last nationwide warning day in September 2020 an “actual catastrophe”. At that time, all civil protection systems for warning the population in the event of a disaster were to be tested, despite months of preparation, little worked.

Many received no warning at all, but only a belated all-clear via warning app. Sirens did not sound in time or not at all. Hectic activism then broke out, but then little happened. The warning day planned for 2021 was canceled without further ado – and the systems failed again during the flood disaster on the Ahr and Eifel in summer 2021, this time during a real disaster.

The new system will be tested for the first time on December 8, explains Kilian Hofmeister from the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance. (BBK) “The test phase begins with the warning day, and cell broadcast will go into regular operation at the end of February.”

From the end of February, all rescue service control centers should be able to play out warnings via cell broadcast

In the test on Thursday, the Federal Office wants to evaluate how many end devices actually display the warning. The office calls it “load testing under real conditions”. The civil protection officers then want to further optimize the new technology – and make recommendations, for example, as to how the mobile phones must be configured.

“From then on, the degree of achievement will be successively increased, also by sorting out old cell phones that are not capable of cell broadcast reception,” hope the experts. From the end of February 2023, all rescue service control centers nationwide will be able to issue a cell broadcast warning. The technology required for this is already installed – it is called the “Federal Modular Warning System”.

Anyone who also has the disaster warning app NINA from the BBK installed on their smartphone will probably be warned twice on the warning day. Because the apps continue to trigger an alarm, they work independently of the cell broadcast system.

also read

During the flood disaster in the Ahr valley, the warning systems failed in the Ahr valley

No uniform warning system

However, the app has often failed in the past when warnings were given for entire areas in the event of major dangers – such as the flood disaster in the Ahr Valley in 2021. During the warning day test in 2020, many app warnings did not reach the users at all or reached them too late – an important one Reason to invest in Cell Broadcast.

Google explains exactly which smartphones can display the new warning messages: smartphones that have the Android 11 operating system or a newer version automatically display the test warning.

The owners do not have to install an additional app for this, the software for this is already integrated in the operating system. Google has supported the development of the warning system together with the mobile network operators and smartphone manufacturers.

Even iPhones with the current Apple operating system already have cell broadcast technology on board, it is switched on by default – if you want to check this, you will find the switch for it under the search term “Official warning messages” in the iOS settings.

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