Google launches Emergency Location Service in U.S. with T-Mobile

Any 911 center with access to the RapidSOS NG911 Clearinghouse will automatically receive faster and more accurate device-based caller location data for 911 calls from Android devices. (RapidSOS)

Emergency responders will be able to find T-Mobile E911 callers on Android faster and more accurately thanks to Google’s launch of Emergency Location Service (ELS) with T-Mobile and RapidSOS.

Finding E911 callers has become an increasingly urgent problem for the wireless industry. More than 80% of calls to 911 in some regions now come from wireless phones, not landline phones, and the FCC requires carriers to locate callers to within 50 meters at least 80% of the time by 2021.

Google announced ELS in Android back in 2016, explaining that it offers a faster, more accurate location to emergency communications centers when an Android user makes an E911 call. It uses a combination of GPS, Wi-Fi, mobile networks and sensors for both indoor and outdoor location.

The service is already deployed in other parts of the world. In Austria, a mountain biker in a remote, heavily forested area suffered an accident and called emergency services for help. The legacy emergency location systems provided a location with a radius of more than 900 meters (about half a mile), while ELS was able to provide a location within 12 meters (39 feet) to help first responders locate the biker, according to a blog post by Jen Chai, Android product manager at Google.

ELS is supported on 99% of Android devices with version 4.0 and above, so it should make quite an impact for T-Mobile. The location is computed on the device and delivered directly to emergency providers—without passing through Google servers, and only when a customer explicitly calls an emergency number.

Google also said it has already launched ELS in the U.S. Virgin Islands through a partnership with West and a regional wireless provider, Viya. West is an emergency technology company that works directly with wireless providers. For Android users on Viya, the integration with West allows more accurate location data to be delivered more quickly with ELS to emergency centers through existing channels.

Google clarified that wireless carriers already use location technology to send a caller’s location to emergency centers, but the integration of ELS is built on top of that to help deliver higher accuracy faster than before.

Most T-Mobile customers with Android devices will now send location data from Google’s ELS, but in markets where RapidSOS is integrated into emergency call centers, Android users will send the information through the startup company, according to The Wall Street Journal.

RapidSOS, a startup featuring three former FCC commissioners on its board, explained that the deal with Google follows a pilot project the two conducted in three test regions in earlier this year to evaluate an integration of Android ELS with the RapidSOS NG911 Clearinghouse.

ELS location was captured via the NG911 Clearinghouse and transmitted to the pilot Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) as supplemental location for some wireless 911 calls. The results showed that ELS location via the NG911 Clearinghouse provided more accurate location data and a faster speed of delivery.

RELATED: RapidSOS startup hooks up with Motorola on 911 solution

RapidSOS CEO and co-founder Michael Martin told FierceWirelessTech last year that direct relationships with U.S. wireless operators wasn’t required but that the company was trying to partner with them.   

The company spent several years working closely with thousands of public safety officials across the United States to develop a universal data link into 911 and first responder networks. Martin himself spent a summer of grad school driving a borrowed Prius to visit PSAPs across the country in an effort to improve 911 systems.

In June, Apple announced it will use technology from RapidSOS to improve the location information sent to emergency responders when iPhone users call 911.