Gauteng has big plans for its R2-million panic button app

The Gauteng Provincial Government’s (GPG) panic button trial app cost R2 million to build and can accommodate up to 14,000 users.

However, it isn’t zero-rated yet, meaning users will require a positive data balance and sufficient coverage to get help from responders in an emergency.

During his 2024 State of the Province Address on 19 February, Premier Panyaza Lesufi announced that the pilot app had been live since April 2023 and had been downloaded by more than 7,900 users.

Following the announcement, MyBroadband asked the GPG for more information regarding the app and if it was zero-rated.

“The development and release of our pilot application, structured as a Software as a Service (SAAS), incurred a cost of just under R2 million to accommodate 14,000 users,” the GPG told MyBroadband.

“Remarkably, the launch was smooth, free from teething issues, owing to the robust SAAS model utilised.”

“The plan now is to expand and massify the app’s user base to 100,000. This expansion is a significant scale-up from the pilot phase, indicating a broader roll-out and increased accessibility to a larger user group,” it added.

While the app isn’t yet zero-rated, the GPG said it recognises the importance of making the app accessible to all, and it is in discussions with telecom companies about zero-rating it by April 2024.

“These conversations are a priority and will be accelerated before the mass rollout scheduled for April 2024,” it said.

“Our existing business relationships with these telcos will facilitate this process, ensuring wider and more equitable access upon the app’s full launch.”

Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi

During his address, Lesufi said 1,379 armed response activations to emergency calls and 1,086 ER24 calls were promptly responded to through the app.

“We have learnt many lessons from our pilot through the project on how to leverage existing technologies in the private sector as an alternative to duplicating products and services,” the Premier added.

Jacob Mamabolo, Gauteng’s MEC for finance, first announced the concept of e-panic buttons for Gauteng residents during the province’s medium-term budget policy statement in November 2022.

Mamabolo said R173 million had been earmarked for this purpose, alongside procuring drones and vehicles and recruiting peace wardens.

Lesufi punted the plan again during his State of the Province address in February 2023.

“We will arm residents with e-panic buttons linked to law enforcement agencies, CCTVs and new state-of-the-art Integrated Command Centre,” the Premier said.

The province put out a tender for panic button service providers to bring their propositions to the table in March 2023.

Initial impressions: a mixed bag

Despite the GPG saying that the launch went smoothly, reviews on the Google Play and Apple App Store are a mixed bag.

On Apple’s App Store, the Gauten panic Button app has a rating of 2.5 out of five across ten reviews — some of which are as recent as early 2024.

The reviewers noted various issues with the app, including it failing to send an OTP, black screens, and general difficulty using the app.

“I downloaded the app, pressed one icon and got a blank screen. I hope there was a better app out there,” one reviewer wrote.

“After clicking Geofence the app says no group, although there is no option to select a group on the main screen,” another said.

Another user said they had requested help through the app it never arrived.

“I got called and I was waiting for a van to be dispatched to my area I didn’t get any vehicle dispatched for armed response,” they wrote.

Reviews on the Google Play Store tell a different story, with an average rating of 4.3 out of five across 88 reviews.

Android users appear to be liking the app based on the reviews. However, one reviewer noted that some people will require training and that the app should be zero-rated.

“It was simple to install, but training or induction might be required for our group on how to use it. We have a group of people from the CPF in Soshanguve. Another issue is that it requires data to install and most people are unable to, due to lack of data,” they said.

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Gauteng has big plans for its R2-million panic button app