Carriers need more time to develop ways to find, map 911 call locations

Carriers need more time to develop ways to find, map 911 call locations

FCC goals 'required the development of sophisticated location technologies for all of the transmission standards used by wireless carriers.''Thomas Sugrue, chief of FCC's Wireless Bureau

Nearly a third of all 911 emergency calls today come from wireless phones, said Thomas J. Sugrue, chief of the Federal Communications Commission's Wireless Bureau.

But there is no accurate location information for any of those calls, which puts the callers at risk, Sugrue told the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet in June.
Carriers are rushing to meet an FCC October deadline for systems to provide such information, and a number of them have applied for deadline extensions.

Once the so-called Enhanced 911 service is finally in place, it will give the nation's wireless networks dramatic new capabilities. E911 can track the location of any cellular phone that is turned on.

Handy information

Users of the information will include dispatchers, law enforcement agencies and field employees who carry cell phones to check the locations of coworkers or facilities.

'The policy is going to speed up the implementation of location-based services,' said Larry Delaney, marketing manager for MapInfo Corp. of Troy, N.Y., whose software turns location data into usable information.

The FCC adopted the E911 rules in 1996. Phase I required carriers by April 1, 1998, to provide any public safety answering point that receives a wireless 911 call with the telephone number and location of the cell site or base station where the call originated.

Phase II requires carriers by Oct. 1 to fix the caller's location to within 50 to 300 meters, depending on the technology used.

Those goals, Sugrue said, 'required the development of sophisticated location technologies for all of the transmission standards used by wireless carriers.'

But rapid changes in technology slowed implementation. FCC wrote the E911 rules assuming that carriers would use network-based triangulation from many cellular transceivers.

Today, Verizon Communications Inc. of New York is the only big carrier still using network-based technology, according to the FCC. Others have switched to handset technology using a Global Positioning System chip set or to hybrids of GPS and network triangulation.

Carrier equipment must not only locate the cellular caller but also must map the location so that it can be routed to the correct public safety access point. MapInfo, for example, uses a database of PSAPs and their coverage areas.

'To compile the database, we had to call all of the 4,500-plus PSAPs,' Delaney said. The database, updated monthly, resides on a carrier's switch.

By April 1998, carriers were required to begin providing Phase I information within six months of a PSAP's request for the service.

But only about 10 percent of PSAPs now have the service, although an estimated 50 percent have requested it, said Woody Glover, director of 911 programs for the Association of Public Safety Communications Officers International.

Sprint Corp. said it is on track to meet the Oct. 1 deadline. Neither Cingular Wireless of Atlanta nor Verizon has requested an extension.
Qwest Communications International Inc. of Denver, in its notice to the FCC about an extension, said it had become disenchanted with the network technology.

'We have found it difficult to persuade vendors to participate in other than the most controlled testing environments,' the company's statement said.

Because it could not be sure network-based location finding would work in the real world, Qwest chose an assisted GPS method. It expects to have a phone with a GPS chip set from Kyocera Wireless Corp. of Kyoto, Japan, ready by year's end, but the phone will not be available by the Oct. 1 deadline.

Software in network switches also will have to be upgraded to route calls to the proper PSAP. Qwest said its switches from Nortel Networks Ltd. of Ontario will not be ready until the fall of 2002.

Switches from Lucent Technologies Inc. of Murray Hill, N.J., will be ready by October.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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