Mobile Industry Knee-Deep in Efforts to Solve 911 Problems

Last week CTIA announced the latest stage of its "test bed" efforts, intended to help improve location accuracy of emergency calls that come from mobile phones. The trade group is working with major mobile providers on the problem.

The challenging problem of detecting 911 calls inside buildings has dogged the telecom industry for decades.

Fortunately, the trade group that represents mobile providers is working on the issue. Last week, CTIA announced the third stage of efforts by 911 Location Technologies Test Bed LLC, an independent research firm started by the association with the goal of working out the not-insignificant kinks with the system.

Location Troubles

How not-insignificant are we talking? Well, last October, the Washington, DC-based TV station WJLA investigated 911 calls conducted on smartphones, using devices that connect to each of the major phone networks.

Three of the four networks tested—T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon—failed to properly pinpoint the location of the calls, in some cases suggesting they came from a quarter-mile away. And in the fourth case, AT&T correctly detected the location essentially because the call was made only 20 feet from an AT&T cell tower.

“It is really frustrating to understand that a Papa John delivery person or the Uber driver has a better, more accurate way of locating the customer or the person flagging the cab than does a 911 call taker,” said Steve Souder, the director of the Fairfax County, Virginia, Department of Public Safety Communications, in comments to WJLA.

A Whole Lot of Testing

CTIA’s efforts to solve this issue—in the form of the LLC’s highly technical tests—come as a result of a 2015 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order meant to encourage accurate location detection from cellphone providers, which often use different technologies to provide information to emergency hotlines.

The current round of testing, which focuses on putting mobile technology into real-world situations, will take place in San Francisco and Atlanta this year. The effort, with the assistance of a number of mobile providers and the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions, is intended to help meet the FCC’s goals of having smartphones provide accurate location data in nearly all cases by 2024.

“Public safety is critically important to the wireless industry and consumers. We are working collaboratively with the public safety community to thoroughly evaluate new technologies under real-life conditions,” said Tom Sawanobori, the vice president of Test Bed LLC, in a news release.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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