T-Mobile launches LBR, NG911 for better 911 response times

firefighter
Location-Based Routing (LBR) cuts the need for 911 call transfers so callers in distress will get help faster. (Pixabay)

T-Mobile announced that it’s the first U.S. wireless operator to launch Location-Based Routing (LBR) and Next Generation 911 (NG911) capabilities, thereby speeding responses to 911 calls.

It’s not yet available everywhere – public safety answering points (PSAPs) need to make changes to their systems in order to make it work. LBR is currently enabled in parts of Texas and Washington state, and T-Mobile said it’s working with 911 authorities to expand the capability nationwide.

T-Mobile has established some level of NG911 connectivity in all or part of Delaware, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington state, with plans to expand both NG911 connectivity and capability nationwide as public safety networks get ready.

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As things currently stand for areas in much of the country, when a wireless caller dials 911, the closest tower sector with the strongest signal will receive the 911 call and route it to a 911 center or PSAP. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to the right PSAP for the caller who’s in distress.

Oftentimes, a series of call transfers occurs and it adds more time to the whole process – and this is when callers need help asap. With NG911, the caller’s location is validated through GPS and routed to the nearest PSAP based on that information, eliminating a lot of these problems. 

It can be a matter of life or death. Omdia analyst Ken Rehbehn, who is also a firefighter/EMT, pointed to a tragedy that happened in his region last summer. A 16-year-old boy, Fitz Thomas, drowned in a Virginia creek on June 4 while PSAPs in two different counties went through a series of 911 call transfers and confusion over his location. First responders arrived too late to save him.

Since then, Loudoun County migrated to NG911 in August 2020, and Montgomery County is planning to migrate to NG911 in the first quarter of 2021, according to a report detailing the incident.

LBR, NG911 benefits

According to a T-Mobile spokesman, NG911 doesn’t require a specific device, but LBR requires a VoLTE-capable device. Location-based routing uses location in the device rather than determining the location based on a cell tower.

Here’s how T-Mobile explains it: LBR significantly cuts the need for 911 call transfers by leveraging low latency device-based location technology, allowing the network to connect more 911 callers directly to the appropriate call center. T-Mobile said some areas with LBR enabled have experienced up to 40% fewer call transfers.

NG911 is all about bringing emergency communications into the future, so 911 transitions to an all-IP system. T-Mobile said it paves the way for alert systems like crash detection to become more effective, sending notifications and data directly to 911 dispatchers instead of third parties.

'Important step forward' 

Rehbehn said he’s surprised there’s been so little progress over the years in removing the friction that happens when people call 911. But T-Mobile’s moves show progress. “This is an important step forward because it eliminates a time-consuming and error-prone process,” he told Fierce. 
 
Mark (Fletch) Fletcher, an Emergency Number Professional (ENP) who advocated for Kari’s Law, said he doesn’t know where rivals AT&T and Verizon are in this process, but in his estimation, it’s not that much of a technical challenge to get the new tech deployed. 

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“I think what T-Mobile is doing is absolutely fantastic,” he said. “They’re taking the data that the devices on their network already have and they are transporting that directly into public safety, not having to rely on over-the-top solutions,” like Rapid SOS. “It’s doing exactly what these other solutions have proven could be done,” but not taking the long way around to get it where it needs to go, “so good for them.”