FCC Report: Wi-Fi Could Benefit 9-1-1 Comms in the Long Term, Short Term Benefits Limited
Wednesday, March 24, 2021 | Comments

A report from the FCC found that in the future, improvements to Wi-Fi could help expand 9-1-1 connectivity options but the benefits to 9-1-1 remain limited in the short term.

The FCC submitted the report pursuant to section 301 of the Repack Airwaves Yielding Better Access for Users of Modern Services (RAY BAUM’s) Act of 2018. The report explored the public-safety benefits, technical feasibility and cost of providing the public with access to 9-1-1 services using Wi-Fi access points and other alternative means during times of emergency when mobile service is unavailable.

The report said that comments submitted in the proceeding pointed to recent improvements in the provision of voice and broadband connectivity over Wi-Fi for non-emergency communications that could be leveraged for public safety as well. In the long term, those improvements could lead to Wi-Fi solutions that would expand the 9-1-1 connectivity options available to consumers, public-safety answering points (PSAPs) and communications providers. They could also complement the broader transition to an IP-based next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) environment.

However, the report said the record of the proceeding also showed that there are limits to the feasibility of providing the public with unrestricted access to 9-1-1 services over Wi-Fi or unlicensed spectrum. Existing Wi-Fi and unlicensed infrastructure typically are not engineered to provide the resiliency and reliability needed to support communications in a major emergency and are likely to be affected by many of the same conditions that impair mobile networks in such circumstances.

Additionally, opening those platforms to the public for purposes of 9-1-1 access would require modifying or disabling authentication protocols and other safeguards, which could result in increased vulnerability.

The report concluded that further study of the technical and policy challenges identified in the proceeding is needed before the conditions in the evolving Wi-Fi ecosystem will support reliable provision of 9-1-1 services over Wi-Fi access points and spectrum for unlicensed devices.

The commenters in the proceeding made clear that further work is needed to establish non-proprietary standards that would support 9-1-1 services over Wi-Fi and unlicensed spectrum. In addition, some commenters suggested that legal and regulatory changes may be needed to address liability, privacy and security concerns with providing public access to 9-1-1 over Wi-Fi and unlicensed spectrum.

Find the full report here.

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