The initial test of the New NHS Covid-19 tracing app on the Isle of Wight has resulted in a surge of mobile phone purchases and upgrades. Many vulnerable people who may be self-isolating do not have smart phones instead relying on simple mobile phones or land lines.
How does it work?
The NHS App is designed to be fairly backwards compatible meaning it will work on iOS version 9.0 and older versions Android software. The NHS requires the app to wake up the phone each time another device running the app is detected within range. This creates a bigger drain on the battery than normal. Older smartphones are well known for their shorter battery life although this has been improved recently.
It uses Bluetooth technology which has been around for a while. As time has passed there have been several versions of these Bluetooth chips starting at 1.0 and currently on version 5.0. The energy efficiency, long range and speed have got better and better as Bluetooth technology has been developed.
Apple (iOS) and Google (Android) are assisting anyone developing a COVID app by releasing ‘building blocks’ available freely if the NHS do decide to change their design of the app to reduce battery drain.
Bluetooth . It’s rumoured that Apple and Google may release other COVID-19 tracking apps available to the UK public which decentralise the user data and improve battery life.
Will it work on my phone?
You will need to have a smartphone and depending on which smartphone you have will dictate which version of the Bluetooth chip is installed.
The latest version of Bluetooth is found on the newer iPhones X and iPhone 11 models and Android based phones such as the Samsung A8 , HTC Wildfire and similar.
Check your settings on the phone to display Bluetooth version. As an incentive, Apple will let compliant products carry out Bluetooth-based “handshakes” in the background without hindrance.
Is It Secure?
The use of Bluetooth to carry out a digital handshake and exchange information to other user devices silently has raised security concerns.
It is worth having the latest possible security updates and to upgrade to the latest available OS version for your phone.
Bluetooth has always been a security concern, and Apple are now lowering the Bluetooth security requirements of their iPhone to assist developers in designing an effective COVID tracing app.
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