Verizon plows ahead on text-to-911, while AT&T 'resets' testing schedule

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), Sprint (NYSE:S), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) said they all continue to make progress in deploying services that will allow wireless customers to send text messages to 911 operators in place of voice calls. Of those three carriers, Verizon appears to be the furthest along in its efforts to launch the service by a May 15, 2014, deadline.

Specifically, Verizon in a report to the FCC said it plans to offer 911 call centers the choice of three text-to-911 options, two of which are already available and the third targeted for launch in the first quarter of 2014. Verizon said it is working with its Text Control Center vendor, Telecommunication Systems, to offer the three text-to-911 options: SMS using a Web browser client and SMS to TTY, both of which are currently available, and SMS over Direct IP. Verizon said the launch of the SMS over Direct IP capability was delayed from late 2013 to the first quarter of 2014.

Verizon said that so far 46 different jurisdictions are using one of its text-to-911 options, up from 37 in October 2013, and several additional deployments are currently scheduled through early 2014.

That Verizon appears further along in the process than other carriers doesn't come as a surprise. Verizon had pushed for a nationwide text-to-911 capability long before the FCC announced the May 15, 2014, deadline for the service. Indeed, Verizon first launched a commercial text-to-911 service in September 2012.

For its part, Sprint said it has selected a Text Control Center vendor, which it did not name, to power the service and is finalizing the terms of its agreement with the vendor. Sprint didn't provide any other specific details. T-Mobile said it has selected a Text Control vendor that it did not name and that it implemented its first successful text-to-911 system in Montgomery County in New York. The carrier said it expects to roll out the service to other 911 call centers in the first quarter of this year.

However, in its own progress report with the FCC, AT&T Mobility said it "reset" the date of its own test of the service in Tennessee to the first quarter of this year. "While software testing has commenced, it has not yet been completed," AT&T said. "We have discovered that we need to deploy additional security elements in the network before the trial can begin. Accordingly, we have reset our timeline for commencement of the Tennessee trial for the end of the 1st quarter of 2014."

AT&T also said that it is "working to finalize the terms and conditions with a vendor to provide the Text Control Center functionality. We expect to reach agreement with the vendor shortly."

The nation's Tier 1 carriers and the FCC announced in December 2012 an agreement to launch text-to-911 services by 2014. The FCC argues that the service will allow people to get in touch with emergency responders in situations where a voice call could endanger the caller, or when a person with disabilities is unable to make a voice call. The FCC has stressed that text-to-911 will be a complement to, not a substitute for, voice calls to 911 services.

Interestingly, in a separate filing with the FCC, AT&T reiterated its call for the FCC to require over-the-top messaging providers like WhatsApp and Facebook Massager to also provide 911 capabilities. "If the commission releases an order covering the provision of Text to 911 Service, they should consider the effects of the IP Transition and the rapid transition from SMS based text messaging to over the top IP based text messaging," AT&T argued. "Accordingly, the commission should consider adopting rules consistent with the carrier voluntary agreement for texting to 911 to over the top based IP text messaging services."

For more:
- see this Verizon filing
- see this Sprint filing
- see this T-Mobile filing
- see these two AT&T filings

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Tier 1 carriers to launch nationwide text-to-911 service by mid-2014
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