T-Mobile: Wide-area wireless networks 'will never provide accurate, dispatchable locations' for E911

In a new filing with the FCC, T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) argued that none of the current options for improving wireless carriers' in-building location technology--including NextNav's indoor location technology, TruePosition's U-TDOA offering, Polaris Wireless' RF Pattern Matching, and OTDOA--will be able to meet the commission's ambitious goals of more accurately locating wireless 911 callers inside buildings. And instead, T-Mobile is urging the FCC to consider other location technologies that fall outside of wireless carriers' purview, including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth beacons and other commercial location systems.

"Wide-area radio networks will never provide accurate, dispatchable locations," the carrier wrote in a recent presentation to FCC staff on the issue. "Only a solution that leverages cLBS (commercial location-based services) and expands the circle of 911 stakeholders will achieve what Public Safety wants and citizens deserve, a dispatchable location for wireless E911 calls."

T-Mobile's filing is the latest movement in a debate on how to better locate 911 callers. The FCC is currently evaluating a proposal that would require wireless carriers to provide an indoor location estimate within 50 meters for 67 percent of indoor 911 calls in two years, and 80 percent of those calls within five years. Vendors including TruePosition and others have argued that there are technologies available that could meet those goals, but T-Mobile in its recently filing with the FCC argued the opposite.

"Reliance on wide-area radio technologies will never lead to a dispatchable location for wireless E911 calls," T-Mobile said, arguing that current technologies cannot meet the 50 meter indoor accuracy requirement, that newer technologies that are intended to measure vertical locations are not mature, and that "global standards development work (is) essentially closed for 2G and 3G."

Indeed, in a July filing with the FCC, T-Mobile offered detailed arguments against a variety of location technologies, including those from TruePosition, NextNav and others, as generally being too difficult and slow to deploy.

The upshot, T-Mobile said, is that the FCC should not require wireless carriers to meet the proposed guidelines, and that the agency should instead seek other ways to locate indoor 911 callers. "For instance, civic addresses associated with commercial Wi-Fi access points could be provisioned in a database and could be passed to PSAPs (public safety answering points, or 911 call centers) when a 911 call comes in from a Wi-Fi enabled handset," T-Mobile wrote. "Similarly, Bluetooth beacons and small cells could be likewise provisioned."

Interestingly, T-Mobile also said it is working on improving the location technologies within its network outside of the FCC's proceeding. "T-Mobile, for example, is already implementing assisted-GLONASS as an additional A-GNSS-based location system to complement A-GPS," the carrier wrote in July. "T-Mobile is also incorporating OTDOA capability into its VoLTE handsets and network. As T-Mobile launches VoLTE--which it has already done in fifteen markets--it will be able to trial OTDOA in real-world conditions."

T-Mobile isn't the only carrier to take issue with the FCC's efforts improve indoor location technologies. TruePosition issued a report this summer that the company said showed its technology could more accurately locate mobile 911 callers inside large buildings. AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) called the report "ill-considered" and "half-baked."

For more:
- see these two T-Mobile FCC filings (PDFs)

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