Minister of the Interior Vít Rakušan presented at the State Security Council new measures in response to last year’s shooting at the Faculty of Arts in Prague. One interesting piece of information for the mobile world emerged from the summary plans. The service will finally be used in the Czech Republic Cell broadcast to warn residents moving in the area, instead of the outdated text messages. At the same time, cell broadcast is routinely and long-term used abroad, not only in Europe, but also, for example, in Africa. Its first specifications date back to 2001.
This is what a Cell broadcast warning looks like in practice. The heat wave warning I saw last July in South Korea. After several days of sweltering hot weather, the Scout Jamboree meeting was evacuated
Cell broadcast has a number of advantages over a system for warning the population via SMS. This is a “cell broadcast”, i.e. a way to send a message to all active smartphones on a particular transmitter at one time. This type of message is supported by the vast majority of current phones, and the delivery of the message is “guaranteed”, which is not the case with SMS messages. Cell broadcast thus does not overwhelm network traffic in crisis situations.
Compared to SMS messages that, for example, no one will read at night in the affected area, Cell broadcast has a specific sound notification accompanied by vibrations that bypasses various night and blocking modes. The message itself is displayed when using the phone in the information window, or is displayed directly on the lock screen. Messages of this type can be up to 1,395 characters long (depending on the encoding), and may contain links to the website and respond to updates on an ongoing basis.
Cell broadcast finds its application in natural and industrial disasters or in active shooter attacks. And one can only speculate whether the number of people killed in the shooting last December would have been lower if this system had been active a long time ago…
Late but still
Security analyst Jakub Onderka is behind the popularization of this warning system, who promoted the Cell broadcast system for a long time within NÚKIB (National Office for Cyber and Information Security). At the same time, his findings from the end of last year are very surprising.
Cell broadcast can more precisely target warning messages to specific phones that are moving in a given area
According to the EU regulation, the early warning system was supposed to operate in the Czech Republic from mid-2022, and until today, the Czech Republic was one of the few EU countries that did not fulfill this obligation. At the same time, the Czech Republic wanted to get ahead of the original plan by half a year, but there was no appropriate legislation that would define how the system should work. The system was also opposed by operators who did not agree with the proposed price of CZK 0.01 per SMS, but demanded a 30x higher amount (CZK 0.3 per SMS). However, in the comment procedure, the operators did not propose a much more reliable Cell Broadcast system. At the same time, many countries are switching to it precisely from earlier systems sending SMS messages.
In the Czech Republic, we can see a modern system for alerting on smartphone displays, but in Poland or Germany, for example, this warning system has been working for a long time. However, we do not yet know the exact date when Cell broadcast will start operating in the Czech Republic. The Ministry of the Interior is to submit an evaluation of the new system adjustments and rules to the government this summer. And by that time Cell broadcast should have been working for some time.