Flood, catastrophe, danger: Germany has been using Cell Broadcast since February 2023 to send warnings to mobile devices. An overview of the facts.

Cell broadcast is a mobile service that sends warning messages directly to cell phones and smartphones nationwide. According to the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance, no other technology can be used to reach people directly. There are similar warnings about apps like “Nina” or “Katwarn”, but that’s exactly the problem: They are programs that you have to download beforehand. Cell broadcast works fundamentally differently.

Cell Broadcast does not require any software at all and is compatible with almost all end devices. The alerts go out to everyone who is in a certain section of the cellular network. In this FAQ you can read what you still have to consider and how you can no longer miss a message via cell broadcast.

How does cell broadcasting work?

Cell broadcast makes use of a standard technology of the mobile network. As soon as a device registers in a radio cell, it is one of the potential recipients of a warning message. Because the central distributor of a radio cell is able to send text messages to all devices that are receiving network reception at that moment. The advantage is obvious: No additional software is required that has to work in the background or in which you have to store data beforehand – the messages reach everyone who is on site anonymously – as long as the end device is generally able to send messages about to receive the radio cell.

Which cell phones receive Cell Broadcast’s messages?

The Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance offers a list of receiving devices. It is noticeable that very old smartphones do not support cell broadcast. At Apple, for example, it is all iPhones up to the iPhone 6. Messages are received from the iPhone 6S, even the Apple Watch Series 4 and all newer models receive a message if they have the appropriate mobile chip. Numerous devices are supported by Samsung, but the S series shows that all smartphones under the S10 are not included. The Office advises that to ensure that the messages are received correctly, it should be checked whether the current operating system is installed, the device is switched on and flight mode is switched off. Reception should be possible with Android 11 and iOS 16.1 or 15.6.1 without any problems.

Is Cell Broadcast better than Nina and Katwarn?

For mere warning of danger, cell broadcast is perhaps the best method of reception. But the technology is limited. The authorities can transmit significantly more information via warning apps, which can have an impact on the scope of the recommendations for action, for example. The Federal Office recommends a combination of both in order not to miss anything.

How can I turn receiving alerts on or off?

It is actually possible to turn off receiving alerts of certain alert levels from Cell Broadcast. With Apple, this can be done via the settings in the “Notifications” menu. At the bottom of the list you will find the option to allow or deny different alerts. Starting with Android 13, you can also find the corresponding options in the settings, for example in the “Security and emergencies” menu. The tech portal “Giga” describes the different ways how to activate or deactivate cell broadcast on Android. There are differences from manufacturer to manufacturer.

Why has cell broadcast been around for a long time in other countries and only now in Germany?

Traditionally, Germany relies on a so-called warning agent mix. This means that the authorities are using several ways to warn the population. However, the Ahr Valley disaster in 2021 showed that the previous funds were insufficient. That’s why it was decided to include Cell Broadcast in the mix and to use it from now on.

How do you recognize a real warning?

Only federal, state, and local government agencies may and may send cell broadcast alerts. The sender is in every mailing, and a real warning also refers to the website “warning.bund.de”. There are currently no all-clear signals via cell broadcast, and the federal government is examining options.

What about data protection?

No personally identifiable information is collected or processed when cell broadcast alerts are sent. It is sent anonymously to all mobile devices that have registered with a specific radio cell. The sender has no insight into the affected cell phone numbers or other data of the recipient. Cell broadcast is therefore data protection compliant.

What should I do if I received an alert?

What to do when a cell broadcast alert comes in depends on what the message and supporting information says. If you are warned of a specific danger, you should follow the recommendations and instructions in the message. For example, it is often suggested to avoid certain places or to go to safety.

What can I do if I don’t get any alerts?

If the mobile phone does not ring even though a warning has been sent, this can have various causes. The device may not be compatible – then it would be time to think about a new purchase. It is also possible that you have accidentally deactivated the reception. Check in the respective menus of the devices whether everything is set correctly. If the flight mode was switched on, it was because: cell broadcast only works if the mobile phone has reception.