FCC adopts rules to improve indoor location accuracy for wireless 911 calls

The FCC voted unanimously to adopt new rules are intended to help improve how first responders locate people who dial 911 on their wireless phones from indoor locations, including in multi-story buildings.

The new rules are largely based on a roadmap agreed to by the Tier 1 wireless carriers and public-safety groups the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials and the National Emergency Number Association. Under the new rules, within two years, carriers will be required to transmit to 911 call centers a caller's indoor position within 50 meters (164 feet) in 40 percent of cases. Within five years the location will have to be accurate to that standard in 60 percent of cases.

The FCC said the new rules "establish clear and measureable timelines for wireless providers to meet indoor location accuracy benchmarks, both for horizontal and vertical location information."

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the order "establishes achievable benchmarks centered around the commitments made by the carriers and public safety assurances that will close the 911 readiness gap."

"But let there be no mistake--we are establishing a floor, not a ceiling," he said. "It is a beginning, not an end. We should not be satisfied with a situation where Uber can consistently find a user's house via an app, but the EMT's location fix is within half a football field 80 percent of the time. I hope our efforts will encourage app developers to work with the public safety community to develop an 'Uber for 911.'"

Importantly, the FCC noted that "no single technological approach will solve the challenge of indoor location, and no solution can be implemented overnight." Various vendors, including NextNav and TruePosition, have vied to provide indoor location solutions to carriers.

As a result, the FCC said the new requirements let carriers "choose the most effective solutions and allow sufficient time for development of applicable standards, establishment of testing mechanisms and deployment of new location technology."

CTIA, PCIA and the Telecommunications Industry Association all praised the order. "As Americans continue to increasingly rely on mobile devices as their primary communications device for their connected lives, today's action by the FCC will help save lives," CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker said in a statement. "While the requirements in today's Order are aggressive, we remain fully committed to delivering on the Roadmap's promise of greatly enhanced location information."

Not everyone was pleased with the order. "Unfortunately for millions of indoor 911 callers in need, the FCC has adopted the weak carrier roadmap over its own strong proposal," said Jamie Barnett, head of the Find Me 911 Coalition. "The Find Me 911 Coalition has been the strongest supporter of the Commission's efforts to find wireless 911 callers indoors, but we have deep concerns that the final rule contains a catastrophic flaw, as it does not require the cell phone companies to measure or report indoor call accuracy."

"While the rule claims to improve indoor accuracy, there appear to be no indoor-specific requirements in it, only a 'blended' indoor-outdoor standard that allows the carriers to take credit for their outdoor location performance," he added. "Thus, the phone companies can meet all of their obligations for years or longer without implementing any new technologies or finding any more indoor callers."

Barnett said that given the two-year requirements to find 40 percent of all callers, "carriers are now admitting they cannot find at least 60 percent of all wireless 911 callers today, yet this rule rests on even more promises around a complicated new and untested system."

Barnett is a former chief of the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. Barnett is also a partner at Washington law firm Venable LLP and is the co-chair of Venable's Telecommunications Group. The group represents 911 operators and first responders, including emergency medical services personnel, fire fighters and police.

TruePosition provided the initial funding for the Find Me 911 Coalition. And TruePosition in the past has clashed with wireless carriers including AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) over location technology. However, the Find Me 911 group has said that it advocates technology-neutral requirements, and also is supported by 195,000 911 professionals and public safety officers.

For more:
- see this release
- see this Urgent Communications article
- see this The Verge article
- see this Washington Post article

Related Articles:
Tier 1 carriers partner with public safety groups to boost 911 location accuracy
Verizon blasts Find Me 911 Coalition report on 911 location data
FCC data shows 9 out 10 911 calls from cell phones in D.C. did not have accurate location info
AT&T blasts TruePosition's 911 testing as 'ill-considered' and 'half-baked'
Indoor-location technology is not ready for E911 use, argues TIA

Correction, Jan. 31, 2015: This article incorrectly stated that NextNav and True Position have vied to provide indoor location GPS solutions to wireless carriers. In fact, both companies have developed non-GPS indoor location solutions.