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O2 flogs new GPS mobile-based telecare to sick and elderly

'Help at hand' aimed at 7 million carers in UK

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O2 has launched the first of its mobile-based telecare services in the UK. Most of the services currently provided by pendant alarms are attached to landlines and their reach extends to the user's garden. But research shows that people feel trapped in their homes by alarms which connect to a landline, and as a consequence exercise less and become unwell sooner, so the

The device used in O2's "Help at Hand" service is the GPS-enabled Pearl+ made by Oysta technology, although O2 doesn't reveal this in its marketing material. It has a support button, four quick call buttons and a fall alarm. Falling or pressing the blue button puts the device into speakerphone mode and connects the user to a call centre.

The Olympics-shenanigans company G4S is “providing buildings and staff”, rather than being subcontracted, although again it was portrayed as an O2 service and it took some very precise questioning to get o2 to reveal the G4S connection.

G4S is second to Tunstall in the UK market for providing telecare response and has good experience in the field. Telephonists will decide how to field the call. They can give over-the-phone advice – although not medical advice – or more typically call a friend or relative or the emergency services. In extreme circumstances they will link the user to the emergency services or their nominated contact.

The system is principally aimed at carers who worry about the target user for Help at Hand. The carer can be sent a text message when the user needs to charge the phone. The carer can define a geo-fence, so that if the user strays outside the an alarm is sent. The user can also program the quick dial keys with the numbers of friends and relatives. Calls made on this are billed separately on a pay-as-you-go contract. The device has a phone number that can be used for incoming calls.

Unfortunately carers are often old themselves and may well struggle with the web-centric ways of doing all these things. The user or carer is expected to put the SIM in the phone and log into a web portal to program the numbers for the quick-dial keys and leave contact details for the call centre as to who to call in an emergency. It would be far nicer if it came charged, with the SIM in place and the lanyard attached like the Age UK MyPhone.

The pricing is pretty much in line with pendant alarm systems at £20 a month, but it’s significantly more than the HK$78 (£6) SmarTone charges for its HelpNow service in Hong Kong or the 38 shekels a month (also £6) Orange Israel charges for its “Gold” service. There is an initial £99 price for the handset which is a bit steep for a device which doesn’t have either hearing aid inductive coil support or a desktop charger – both of which are very important for the community at which it is aimed. It is however significantly cheaper than the similar service from Buddi.

O2 will be selling the device online, through O2 shops and through Sainsbury’s pharmacies. The use of pharmacies is interesting because it’s the channel the French MVNO Bazile uses. The operator might find itself having a tough time selling into the UK mobile retail trade where the major chains are keen to retain a young profile for their customer bases.

O2 has been trialling the system for a couple of years with 200 users. While they accept that most of the users will be older, they are keen to show the benefits for comparatively younger people, perhaps those with early onset Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis or epilepsy.

With around seven million people in the UK acting as carers and an aging population, there is a very great need for the service. O2 refused to be drawn on targets but it’s very much a commercial venture and not a corporate social responsibility play. ®

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