The topic of wireless 911 is very active, because it affects such a wide variety of people--wireless carriers, public safety comm centers and the public. In additiona, there are almost a score of stakeholders surrounding the technology who influence how it operates, how much it costs and when it will be implemented. Check our Wireless 911 Spider Web diagram to get an idea of the complexity of this issue.
Naturally, all three groups have their viewpoints on how 911 should be handled, both technically and operationally. Each group has major players, including the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), Cellular Telephone Industry Association (CTIA), and the citizen's group Ad Hoc Alliance for 911. On the regulatory end, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Congress are involved in setting rules and regulations.
There are several issues currently affecting wireless 911.
The FCC deadline for transmitting ANI and pseudo-ALI to the PSAP has come and gone--it was April, 2000. According to NENA, just 8% of PSAPs now have this feature available to them. Besides transmitting the caller's wireless phone number to the PSAP, wireless carriers must also send the address/location of the receiving antenna site, to assist in locating the caller.
Now, local comm centers are trying to size up the Phase II possibilities and timeline, and decide if adopting Phase I would be worth the time, trouble and money. In many cases, current 911 equipment is not capable of receiving a 7-digit telephone number and area code -- it was never anticipated that a non-local caller would be dialing 911. So many agencies are facing a considerable expense to upgrade their equipment in order to receive Phase I features. Some are even considering whether to skip Phase I and just upgrade their systems to handle Phase II immediately.
T-Mobile was fined by the FCC in April 2003 for not meeting Phase I implementation deadlines--the FCC alleged T-Mobile let PSAP requests languish for longer than the 6-month time limit.
Under the FCC's rules, wireless carriers must transmit the location of a wireless 911 caller within certain accuracies.
The FCC granted waiver requests from all major wireless carriers in October, 2001, and now Verizon, Cingular and Nextel have filed Petitions for Reconsideration on the waivers, objecting to some sections of the waiver grants.
There are still lots of PSAP issues, not the least of which is the expense of upgrading 911 equipment to handle Phase II features, and the ability to display the location information -- either a latitude and longitude, or a map display.
Now, there are still a substantial number of public safety comm centers that have not upgraded their 911 networks to Phase II features.
Violations - The FCC has fined several carriers for violating Phase II deadlines or other regulations. Check the FCC's list.
The Cost - A May 2003 Associated Press story said that NENA estimated the cost of nationwide Phase II at "as much as $8 billion."
After strong lobbying from a consumer group, the FCC ordered that analog wireless phones must use any available transmission method and carrier to complete a 911 call. Now, wireless phone manufacturers are marketing compliant phones, although Motorola has been fined for not following the FCC's rules.
When the FCC issued its original rules on wireless 911, they required carriers to accept and pass along 911 calls from any wireless phone, even those who had not been subscribed with a carrier. This was intended to ensure that emergency calls would have a higher probability of being processed and then received at the PSAP. (example phone)
Since these so-called uninitialized phones have no number, they cannot be called back by a dispatcher. Calls from the phones will also not display a telephone number in Phase I or II implementations.
As well, the FCC didn't consider that manufacturers would program into the handset a one-button 911 calling feature, which has generated millions of unintentional, accidental calls by persons who don't use the keypad lock feature, and who place the phone in a purse, bag or back pocket. These calls take a long time to track down and handle.
Now, on-line companies are selling unsubscribed phones and promoting them for personal safety (for example). Non-profit and community groups are collecting wireless phones donated by the public, tweaking them to dial 911 only, and handing them out to victims of domestic violence, taxi drivers, mail carriers, crossing guards, community watch groups and others.
As well, in Sept. 2001 the FCC has asked for more comments on how to handle these phones, both technically and procedurally. In Dec. 2001 NENA wrote wireless carriers asking them to tackle the issue of unintentional calls. Then in Jan. 2002 NENA, APCO and NASNA formally asked the FCC to study the unintentional phone call issue. In March 2002 NENA posted a chart of the carriers' responses. In April 2002 the FCC issued an order requiring phone labeling, number standardization and public education. [press release, Acrobat, pdf format]
In Sept. 2002 the federal COPS program published a 58-page report on "Use and Mis-Use of 911." [Acrobat, pdf]
In Nov. 2003 the FCC changed the requirement to program NI phones with "123-456-7890," and switched to "911-xxx-xxxx." [Order, pdf]
In Nov. 2003 NENA published a formal document, "Guidelines for Minimum Response to Wireless 911 Calls.
The FCC initially established local accuracy rules for the wireless carriers, setting minimum standards for locating 911 callers in Phase II systems, both for handset-based wireless networks and tower-based networks. Basically, the original 2001 rules (pdf) required carriers to locate callers within 125 meters 67% of the time. More importantly, the FCC allowed the carriers to average the accuracy of wireless 911 calls across their entire service territory in order to judge if the company met the FCC's requirement.
Subsequent rules (pdf) improved accuracy to 100 meters (network-based) and 50 meters (handset-based), but retained the allowance to average the accuracy over the service territory.
In Sept. 2010 the FCC revised the accuracy rules after technology improvements and recommendations from public safety groups and associations. The rules become effective in Jan. 2011, and basically will over time move to a county-based accuracy reporting standard, with certain exclusions for forested areas, and taking into account rural areas with few cell sites. (Second Report and Order, pdf).
Thre are also several non-technical wireless 911 issues, including accidental dialings that create an increased workload for comm centers (must answer, monitor to determine if an emergency, tray to call back, etc.), public education on when to dial 911 when mobile and knowing your location, and the huge question of how to route wireless calls (to a centralized, state-wide location, to county centers or individual, local comm centers).
We should note that 911 itself--wired or wireless--has many issues to resolve, including funding, implementation, the continuing issue of PBX calls, how local number portability will affect 911, the increased number of phone companies (LECs and ALECs), the absence of even B911 in some areas, the use of other numbers to report highway emergencies, and data standards.
|Wireless 911 & Telematics Information Resources
FCC Wireless 911 Actions