At the end of last year, the nation’s wireless carriers and public safety industry groups reached consensus concerning improvements in locating cellular 911 callers. The plan, which was the fruit of over 8 months of debate and discussion, exceeded earlier proposals made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The voluntary agreements will lead to a solution for accurately locating indoor 911 callers, including their vertical location in high-rise buildings. With the increased use of cellular phones, public safety dispatchers say fewer 911 calls arrive with an accurate location, or with no caller location at all.
Wireless carriers reported that future technology will provide public safety dispatchers with a “dispatchable” location, in some cases right to the office or desk of a caller. Within nine months the carriers will demonstrate a “pre-standards” solution, and then meet certain accuracy standards over the next five years leading to three-meter vertical 911 caller accuracy in 2019.
Carriers reached a similar agreement to deploy text-to-911 features on their networks.
The plan is not without detractors who have urged the FCC to abandon the proposals put forward by wireless carriers, citing that current technology can’t provide accurate wireless location information. This is disputed, however, by APCO and NENA.
According to chair Tom Wheeler, the FCC will consider new rules on 911 location accuracy during its first meeting of 2015 on January 29 , and it’s likely the final rules will split between the commission’s own proposal and a the carrier agreement reached last November.
Wheeler confirmed the commission’s ongoing public safety concerns about accurate wireless location technology. “Since I arrived at the Commission, one of our top public safety priorities has been improving the effectiveness of 911. A particular area of attention has been to improve location accuracy for indoor wireless 911 calls.”
Commenting that previously most cellular usage was outdoors, he noted, “But times have changed, and so has technology. The vast majority of 911 calls now come from wireless phones, increasingly from indoors.”
Wheeler addressed the controversy surrounding the roadmap agreement issued my APCO, NENA, and wireless carriers. “The roadmap proposal is a big step forward, but we also understand and appreciate the valid criticisms raised by some public safety stakeholders.”
“We have listened,” Wheeler continued, “and learned from all sides in this debate…I am circulating an order to my fellow Commissioners that takes advantage of the good work done by the carriers, APCO, and NENA, while also providing confidence-building measures and backstop thresholds that set clear targets and deadlines for improving indoor location and hold parties accountable for results.”
Wheeler made no comment on how the Commission’s proposed regulations and the roadmap agreement would be combined.