Public Safety, Wireless Industry Agree on Indoor Wireless Location Plan (11/17/14)
Monday, November 17, 2014 | Comments

By Kristen Beckman
The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International, the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and the nation’s largest wireless carriers agreed to a consensus plan designed to improve the ability to locate wireless 9-1-1 callers.

The issue has become a hot topic during the past year, with FCC and Senate hearings addressing the topic and a variety of stakeholders weighing in. The FCC issued proposed rules in February designed to help emergency responders better locate wireless callers to 9-1-1, but public safety and the wireless industry have at times appeared to be at odds about the best way to move forward with improving location capabilities.

Technologies developed and deployed during the past 15 years were targeted primarily at finding wireless callers making 9-1-1 calls while away from their home or office. Widespread replacement of landline phones with wireless phones means an increasing proportion of wireless 9-1-1 calls are now made from an indoor location, a situation that existing location technologies are less equipped to handle.

“In February of this year, the FCC took an important and welcomed step to propose new rules for improving 9-1-1 location accuracy for wireless calls made from both outdoor and indoor locations,” said APCO in a bulletin to its members about the consensus agreement. “In addition to outlining specific benchmarks, the FCC also encouraged public safety, industry and other stakeholders to work collaboratively to develop alternative proposals for its consideration.”

The agreement, which was the result of numerous meetings over an eight-month period, will be presented to the FCC.

APCO said the agreement exceeds the FCC’s proposal in several ways. Notably, the agreement defines the ability to produce a “dispatchable location,” or the civic address of the calling party plus additional information such as floor, suite, apartment or similar information with the help of a national emergency address database (NEAD). The FCC’s proposal required a horizontal accuracy of 50 meters and a vertical accuracy of 3 meters, which APCO noted still leaves room for location ambiguity.

The agreement also calls for an open, transparent and technology-neutral test bed under real-world conditions that any location technology vendor can use to enable public safety to assess actual performance, utility and value of a location solution. APCO said this test bed is “markedly different from prior test beds and other test results submitted by location vendors that depend on pre-arranged environments and that are not fully open to public-safety professionals and organizations.”

The agreement also calls for the use of a variety of technology-neutral solutions, incorporates enforceable timeframes and requires quarterly reports on live 9-1-1 call data illustrating the performance over time of various location technologies.

The proposed timeline included in the agreement calls for a pre-standards dispatchable location solution demonstration in nine months, followed by creation of a technology test bed and development work on NEAD within one year. Quarterly progress reports of wireless 9-1-1 call data would commence in 18 months, according to the agreement.

Longer-range benchmarks include the incorporation of assisted Global Navigation Satellite System (A-GNSS) technology in all new voice over Long Term Evolution (VoLTE) handsets incrementally to 100 percent within four years, incorporation of location fixes obtained using heightened location accuracy technologies deployed incrementally over six years, and the evaluation of various z-axis technology solutions as well as the use of crowd-sourced latitude/longitude information from Wi-Fi beacons.

The Find Me 911 Coalition reacted angrily to the agreement, calling it a "secret deal that lacks consensus."

“This is absolutely not a consensus agreement, as it only appears to be supported by a handful of APCO and NENA execs, not their peers in the 9-1-1 and public safety community,” said Jamie Barnett, director of the Find Me 911 Coalition and former chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. “The terms of this so-called deal are a travesty for public safety and a tragedy for consumers. The carrier proposal delays implementation of robust accuracy requirements for years longer than the FCC’s proposed rule, offers no vertical accuracy standard or timeline, and abandons millions of users of existing 3G or 4G phones by focusing only on future handset design.”

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