Start-Up Tawkon Rides Radiation Scare To Build Phone Coverage Maps

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Tawkon feeds paranoia for the benefit of mobile users everywhere

Tawkon, a Tel Aviv start-up currently residing at The Time incubator, has a strange business model – perhaps a business model that could only fly in a start-up community like that of Israel.

Many people fear that non-ionising radiation from mobile phones can cause cancer, even though study after study has found that there is no evidence of such a link. The fears have been hyped by outlets like the Daily Mail, and suggestible authorities such as those of San Francisco have considered passing laws to limit radiation.

What Tawkon does is either pandering to those fears, or placating them, depending on your viewpoint. It also claims that it isn’t scaremongering – but is to be building something of lasting use on the back of radiation fears.

The firm has developed a consumer app solution designed to show how much ‘non-ionising radiation’ your smartphone is producing. The user therefore gets an indication which helps to minimise their exposure to the radiation. That soothes their fears – although it didn’t impress Apple, which refused to hose the software, presumably resenting the implied slur on its products. The app can be used on BlackBerry or Android – or on iPhones which have been jailbroken.

Science has not proven a cancer risk form using mobile phones, and Tawkon is not saying there is one. What it is doing, however, is building a business on the data collected from its app. Tawkon says the data will help operators and users make the best of mobile coverage, and provide some valuable insights along the way.

Everybody wins

According to Tawkon, the World Health Organisation classes high intensity non-ionising radiation as a “possible carcinogen”. Generally, sources of non-ionising radiation include anything that produces visible light, for example light bulbs and candles, along with your radio and microwave oven.

tawkon-Dashboard-pageDespite the opinion that high intensity radiation produced by mobile phones can damage living cells over time, studies have not found evidence. A study from the Health Protection Agency has suggested that the only confirmed danger to mobile phone users’ was from using the device while driving.

“It is important for me to say that science is not yet conclusive about the mobile impact of mobile radiation,” Gil Friedlander, co-founder and CEO of Tawkon told TechWeekEurope on our visit to Tel Aviv’s Time centre. So why create an app that promises to help users avoid exposure?

Tawkon found out that 90 percent of the time phones emit a tiny amount of radiation. One of the main factors responsible for this is reception. When the phone has a good connection with a mast, it doesn’t need to shout to get its signal heard there.

Around ten percent of the time, the phone has a poorer connection and has to increase its emission strength by a factor of up to 300. The app monitors the levels of radiation and warns when this happens with a short vibration. Concerned users can then switch to a speakerphone or a headset to get their phone device away from their head.

Alternatively, of course, they can move to the part of the room where the phone coverage is best and the emissions are therefore lower. Friedlander says that sometimes radiation emissions will be higher in one corner of the room but not in another, so the app can suggest a change in daily routine. And parents can even check how long their offspring have been subjected to the supposedly-harmful influence of a smartphone.

It doesn’t really matter whether you believe that a mobile phone can fry your brain, says Tawkon. The app is free, and will reassure users.

However every user will contribute precious data that Tawkon aggregates to build coverage maps of every mobile network operator in the world. This is an important source of revenue, and it also helps to improve the life of mobile device users. Areas where your phone emits less radiation are – more or less – simply the areas where signal strength is best.

And whether or not the users health is improved, their battery life will benefit if they act to minimise the emissions. “I think it’s a very altruistic model,” says Friedlander.

What about the data?

Thanks to this data, Tawkon can find out the areas where most calls were dropped, or where the coverage is patchy.

It also gives other data. According to the findings, Latin Americans tended to answer their calls significantly quicker than the rest of the world. In Panama, the average time the phone is left ringing before an answer is 6.42 seconds, while in Libya it’s almost double that – 11.16 seconds.

Same research reveals that around 14 percent of all calls in the world go unanswered – Americans ignore almost a quarter of their calls, the Chinese are likely to respond to 90 percent, while in Qatar only 60 percent will get a response.

According to Tawkon, 3G network coverage in the UK is pretty bad, despite a high number of base stations. One explanation is that the thick Victorian walls of British houses block the signal. Since around 70 percent of mobile calls are made indoors, it drags the overall reception down. Additionally, a phone must work harder to connect to a base station in the rain.

You may argue that Tawkon is basing its business on unscientific fear, but it’s a free service that might just help users feel safe, while keeping the rest of us well-connected.

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