Apple shares concerns about WEA geotargeting, multilingual support

police car (Pixabay)
Public safety officials have been lobbying for improvements to Wireless Emergency Alerts.

Apple representatives recently met with the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB) and shared its concerns about proposals surrounding Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), noting that iPhones do not support device-based geotargeting for WEA messages.

In the conference call meeting held earlier this month, instigated by the PSHSB, Apple explained that using device-based geotargeting would likely significantly increase the latency of users seeing WEA messages—which could harm consumers by delaying their access to critical safety information, according to Apple’s ex parte filing.

Apple cautioned against any device-based geotargeting WEA requirements that could result in significant battery drain in emergency situations, where battery life is particularly important. Apple also noted that mandated device-based geotargeting would create consumer privacy issues.

CTIA petitioned the FCC last year to reconsider issues related to WEA, saying the commission should defer mandating the implementation of embedded references until after feasibility testing and standards are completed and clarify the definition of “clickable” links, among other things. But public safety officials are pushing back, saying they want the FCC to move forward on a final rulemaking and require handset-enhanced geotargeting upgrades.

RELATED: T-Mobile, CTIA reiterate that WEA requirements for 5G are premature

In its filing, Apple noted that device-based geotargeting would still require coordination with carrier networks and could contribute to network congestion. Consumers could be harmed by congestion during a disaster if they’re unable to receive critical information or communicate with emergency services, the company said.

Efforts have been underway to improve the WEA system and require operators to narrow their geotargeting of alert messages to areas that best approximate alert areas specified by the alert originator—the idea being that improvements would reduce alert fatigue and consumer opt out.

In its Aug. 18 ex parte filing, the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) and Wireless Technologies and Systems Committee (WTSC) also met via phone with PSHSB representatives and noted its concerns with the feasibility of the FCC’s proposed geotargeting accuracy standard, which would require 100% of the targeted devices within the specified alert area to receive the alert with no more than 0.10-mile overshoot.

ATIS doesn’t believe that such a standard is achievable based on existing cell-site technology. The fact that there is no way to absolutely know a device’s location in all circumstances is another technical issue that might prevent compliance with the standard. The device functionality for location could be turned off and even if it’s turned on, variables could affect the device’s ability to determine its location.

ATIS and others are also concerned about having to meet multilingual requirements and making sure messages are accurately translated. For its part, Apple noted that revisions to international technical standards are necessary to display messages to users in their preferred language, and it’s asking the FCC to take into account the multi-year process required to revise those standards. It said that sending a large number of messages in numerous languages could lead to network capacity challenges.

In comments filed Aug. 16, the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) said that while its members are committed to public safety initiatives, it would be unreasonably burdensome and costly for many CCA members to meet certain deadlines associated with some enhanced WEA requirements. On behalf of members that may need it, the CCA is asking that the commission waive or extend its compliance deadlines for implementing embedded references—which can include phone numbers and URLs—and improving geolocation requirements.

The CCA said that many of its members, especially those serving rural and remote areas, are still transitioning from 2G and 3G networks to newer technologies, and the applicable standards for new WEA requirements are still under development through ATIS’s WTSC. “The reality is that embedded references are technically infeasible on certain legacy networks and geolocation capabilities are still being developed,” the CCA said.