Operators could face new E-911 requirements

Operators could face new E-911 requirements
It's been a tough road for wireless E-911. More than 10 years ago the FCC mandated wireless E-911, requiring every operator to deploy technology capable of tracking down a caller dialing 911. Wireless operators begged and fought for waivers to deadlines, missed many deadlines, paid millions in fines for missed deadlines, ripped out expensive location technology because it didn't work and received complaints from PSAPs (public safety answering point)--the point of first response for firefighters, police and other 911 calls--about the lack of operator responsiveness.

Just when you think everyone has their acts together when it comes to wireless E-911, a new report released last month finds that location-based wireless emergency service is not very consistent in pinpointing callers (sub. req.). Project Locate (Locate our Citizens in Times of Emergencies), rolled out by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) in 2005, conducted independent testing of wireless location data delivered to various PSAPs. APCO presented the dim results during a Senate hearing last month.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin says the FCC will rule soon on new testing requirements for operators. The commission could also take another look at the technology that operators have deployed to pinpoint callers. Both of these moves could mean greater expense for operators. The fear is that the FCC could require blanket testing for every local PSAP to ensure that each 911 is meeting the accuracy requirements mandated by the FCC--an expensive and time-consuming proposition. The other fear is that the FCC mandates more technology to ensure greater accuracy.

CDMA operators deployed assisted GPS handset-based technology along with Advanced Forward Link Trilateration (AFLT) technology that takes measurements of signals from nearby base stations and reports the time/distance readings back to the network. Those deploying GPS have to adhere to stricter location requirements: 50 meters for 67 percent of all calls and 150 meters for 95 percent of all calls. GSM operators opted for network-based solutions, which have to locate a caller within 100 meters for 67 percent of the calls and 300 meters for 95 percent of all calls.

It appears the FCC might be leaning toward a requirement of both GPS and network-based triangulation technology to obtain greater accuracy. CDMA operators could argue that AFLT is already a network-based technology, but GSM operators would be required to deploy GPS. Granted GSM operators are already doing that for commercial applications, but they would have to invest in the E-911-grade GPS.

Now is the time for operators to stand up and show they are willing to work with the FCC and public safety before they face more expensive mandates. So much innovation is happening on the location front these days as commercial location-based services heat up. Companies like Skyhook are developing solutions around WiFi mapping. Tim Lorello, vice president and chief marketing officer with TeleCommunication Systems, notes that GPS can be used over TV broadcasts using special transmitters. TCS is also working on ways to send an SMS E-911 call.

All of these technologies could be a boon for both public safety and commercial applications. While in the past, mobile operators were pushed kicking and screaming to deploy E-911 technology, the demand for commercial location applications today means they should be willing to be pro-active about deploying technology that offers greater accuracy. After all, safety is a big reason customers began carrying cell phones in the first place. -Lynnette

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