Samsung recalls 160,000 Jitterbug phones

The simplified phones should let users reach 911 in areas without a roaming partner, but can't

Thousands of phones sold by Jitterbug, a mobile operator that specializes in simple handsets for limited uses such as emergency calls, are being recalled because they can't be used to call 911 in some rare cases.

Jitterbug sells bare-bones handsets and no-contract service plans geared toward seniors and other consumers who don't make heavy use of cell phones. One of its phones, the Jitterbug OneTouch, has dedicated buttons for the Jitterbug operator, one preset number, and 911 in place of a numeric keypad. Jitterbug has service and roaming agreements with many CDMA (Code-Division Multiple Access) operators around the country.

That phone, as well as the standard Jitterbug phone with a keypad, have been recalled because they can't be used to call 911 emergency lines in some areas where they should be able to. Manufacturer Samsung Telecommunications America is recalling about 160,000 of the phones for a free software upgrade that can't be done over the air, according to Jitterbug Founder and Chairman Arlene Harris. There have been no reported accidents or injuries caused by the phones, according to a notice by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Users would only run into the problem in rare circumstances, according to Harris. In an area where there is a CDMA network but Jitterbug doesn't have a roaming agreement with the carrier, the phones can't be used for regular calls and users receive an "out of range, try again later" message on the handset's screen. While the phones should still be able to reach 911 through the local network, the recalled handsets cannot.

Customers could only encounter this problem in a few small areas of the country, Harris said. Samsung is conducting the recall voluntarily and is helping Jitterbug reach its customers by letter. Phones purchased from Jitterbug today don't have the flaw, Harris said.

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Stephen Lawson

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