Carriers Abandon 9-1-1 Database Designed to Improve Location Accuracy
Tuesday, February 18, 2020 | Comments

Wireless carriers abandoned the National Emergency Address Database (NEAD), the platform designed to support wireless providers’ provision of dispatchable location information to 9-1-1 centers, according to a letter filed with the FCC Feb. 14.

In the letter, NEAD LLC said it “has ceased operation and is no longer available to support wireless providers’ provision of dispatchable location information as the commission described in the fourth report and order on wireless 9-1-1 location accuracy.”

Although the NEAD-based dispatchable location solution achieved the functional capabilities the FCC described in the fourth report and order, the fifth further notice of proposed rulemaking “recognized that the NEAD faced certain challenges.” In a filing last year, CTIA said third-party adoption and scalability issues were substantial challenges to NEAD-based dispatchable location solutions.

The 2015 fourth report and order referenced NEAD but didn’t require it under the rules. FCC officials declined to comment.

Following the FCC’s 2015 rules requiring wireless carriers to improve 9-1-1 location accuracy for emergency calls from mobile devices, CTIA established the NEAD. NEAD’s goal was to implement a national database of access points such as Wi-Fi hot spots and beacon location information such as Bluetooth Low Energy to help wireless service providers deliver a dispatchable location to in turn help 9-1-1 call centers respond to emergencies.

West Safety Services was selected to develop and operate the NEAD platform. “NEAD LLC’s vendor has certified destruction of the database consistent with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) Guidelines for Media Sanitization,” the letter said.

In 2016, the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) released a new standard, titled Location Accuracy Improvements for Emergency Calls (ATIS-0700028 v1.1), which defined the architecture and requirements for buildout of the 9-1-1 NEAD, as well as how information in the database will be processed.

“Dispatchable location and, more broadly, delivery of accurate vertical location information as part of wireless 9-1-1 calls are important objectives for the wireless industry,” NEAD LLC said in its letter to the FCC. “We look forward to continuing to work with the FCC and other stakeholders to identify ways to deliver accurate vertical location information, including dispatchable location from sources other than the NEAD, which can help further enhance location accuracy for wireless 9-1-1 callers and the public-safety community.”

The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International criticized the move in a letter to members. “Given that the industry has not announced testing of other methods for delivering dispatchable locations for 9-1-1 calls, this announcement represents a setback for 9-1-1 location accuracy,” said the letter.

Following months of negotiation in 2014, the wireless industry — including CTIA and its members including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile USA and Verizon — made a formal commitment to APCO and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) to develop, fund and implement the NEAD. In 2018, the NEAD underwent early stage testing that demonstrated the fundamental ability of the NEAD to deliver dispatchable locations. However, while the performance of the NEAD depended in part on the cooperation of other entities such as businesses possessing information on Wi-Fi access points, the wireless industry failed to secure the agreements needed, APCO said.

"The wireless industry decision to abandon the NEAD without any announcements about alternative approaches to dispatchable location represents a broken promise to the American public," APCO Executive Director and CEO Derek Poarch said. "Today's announcement is disheartening, but APCO will continue advocating for emergency communications centers to receive the best location information possible."

NENA said that while it was supportive of the NEAD’s objectives, the association was skeptical of the NEAD approach from the beginning and accordingly insisted on the inclusion of the myriad other guarantees in the 2014 Roadmap for Improving E911 Location Accuracy.

“Despite our skepticism, we are disappointed that the NEAD approach has proven unsuccessful, and we thank those who strived to make the NEAD a success,” said Dan Henry, NENA government affairs director. “Civic address — and indeed, the ‘door to knock on’ — remain a crucial long-term goal for 9-1-1, but we cannot shortcut the path to accurate, sustainable, actionable location information. NENA is committed to ensuring public safety is provided with the best possible 9-1-1 location information, and will remain vigilant in overseeing industry progress toward this goal.”

The NEAD decommissioning letter filed with the FCC is here.

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