Amid what seems to many as the imminent demise of the 3G network that services most “kosher” cellular phones, stakeholders in the unique industry of providing “safe” technological options for the Orthodox community have been searching for a way to effectively work with 4G models, set to replace their predecessor.
After weeks experimenting with different options, technicians working in tangent with providers were successful in producing a method of blocking internet access on 4G phones in a way that they say is even more effective than with past models.
“It’s even stronger than what we were able to do with the 3G phones,” Rabbi Mordechai Schwartz, Director of the Technology Awareness Group (TAG) of Rockland County told Hamodia. “There was a lot of concern as to how we were going to deal with kashering the 4G phones. They work on new technology and we only had a few months to figure it out, but in the end, the protection technology was developed in a way that once we take the internet off, it’s nearly impossible to get it back. Before it was possible for someone who is really tech-savvy to undo the filter on some devices, but now that option is gone.”
Rabbi Schwartz credited Livigent, a company that develops and administers filtering options for phones and computers, with developing the program. The new application is being offered free of charge to kosher cell phone providers as well as to organizations like TAG, Mishumar, and Geder, who help to install filters on devices. The application can be used make a phone “talk only,” or to block internet access while allowing for text messaging or email.
Yoel Perl, CEO of GenTech and a member of the RnD Software group which are both affiliated with Livigent, told Hamodia that the blocking technique was developed by working directly with the mobile phone producer, LG electronics.
“They gave us the ability to administrate the phones ourselves, which made it possible for us to alter how they operate,” he said. “Most filters that have been used on basic phones before were being made by technicians; now that this is being supported by the provider itself, it works on a much higher standard.”
The application RnD developed is, at present, only compatible with the LG Exalt VN220, but should be able to be tailored to others of the same make, said Mr. Perl. He added that his company is currently working on a way to install similar technology that could be used on Kyocera and Samsung models as well, once they develop basic phones.
For some time now, kosher phones and most basic mobile phones have run on the 3G network for which filter companies had designed highly effective methods of blocking internet access, as well as options of removing text messaging.
The demand to develop more advanced filtering methods for 4G phones arose in recent months as more and more 3G users have increasingly experienced poor reception and frequent dropped calls. Several sources in the telecommunications industry have told Hamodia that as companies move towards producing only 4G models, less effort is being spent on the upkeep of 3G lines, which has led to deteriorating service.
David Weissmann, a Public Relations Manager for Verizon, told Hamodia that his company is committed to maintaining 3G service through the end of 2019, but that “in order to facilitate a smooth transition”, they are no longer activating new 3G devices. He added that nearly all of the company’s “traffic” is now on the 4G network, but did not comment on the cause of service interruptions.
For some time now, internet blocking devices have been available for 4G phones, but as the technology that powers the more-advanced phones is more intricately tied to the internet, filtering devices were not able to provide the same level of protection as those designed for 3G phones.
An additional challenge was that the internet access on 4G devices is higher speed and is easier to use than what is available even on an unblocked 3G phone.
Even so, Rabbi Schwartz warned of what he called a widespread misconception that it is safer to have a properly filtered Smartphone than a 4G model with internet access.
“I certainly do not recommend having a 4G flip phone with internet either, but it’s very important to understand that even with a very good filter, once you have a Smartphone, your whole life can change very easily. Options of apps and groups open up to you that make you part of a culture that is just not there if you have a flip phone. People end up wasting time on them and involving themselves in things that might not be so ideal for their neshamos.”
To the satisfaction of many who rely on kosher phones or who use flip phones with reliable filtering devices, RnD was successful in developing technology which will allow for a high level of protection on LG’s 4G model.
“It’s amazing the extent to which we see Hashem helping those who want to remain safe from the dangers of technology to have the ability to do so,” said Mr. Perl. “In the same week as this product was finally ready, Verizon stopped activating new 3G devices.”
Mordechai Fishman, who operates KoTech, a kosher cell phone provider, told Hamodia that the new application seems to be a good solution, but that the cost of new phones themselves might be a challenge to retailers.
“It [the new application] definitely goes a long way to take care of the issue, but unless you’re eligible for an upgrade, the 4G phones themselves cost around $150; that could be too expensive for a lot of customers and providers,” he said.
One Boro Park 3G kosher phone user, who asked only to be identified as Shia, felt it was unfair for Verizon to phase out service on one network and to leave the costs of a new phone on consumers.
“Two months ago I bought a new 3G phone which is now worthless, and now they are asking me to spend money that I don’t have to replace it,” he said. “Verizon offered me to upgrade to a Smartphone, but I don’t want one, I want a flip phone. The bill should be on them.”
Verizon did not respond to an inquiry from Hamodia regarding whether trade-in options would be made available as 3G service sunsets.
Rabbi Schwartz was grateful that a solution for 4G phones had been developed in time to avert what some feared would be a crisis for kosher phone users, but cautioned that new approaches to technological challenges would continue to be in demand.
“In technology, new things are being developed all the time and we can never say that now we have a long-term solution. Baruch Hashem, the 4G problem was solved, but we will have to continue to be mechazek ourselves and be ready to deal with new challenges that we can be sure will come our way soon.”