Wireless E-911 challenges locals
In a wireline world, emergency 911 (E-911) service was much simpler. To provide comprehensive E-911 coverage, government agencies invested in state-of-the-art location solutions. At the time, those solutions provided the level of service consumers demanded. Now, however, the situation has changed.
With the explosive growth of wireless telecommunications, government agencies, as well as telecommunications carriers, face a new challenge in locating E-911 calls from cellular phones. Whereas E-911 calls from wireline phones are associated with street addresses, calls from wireless phones can originate anywhere.
That poses a huge problem to public safety answering points (PSAPs). Wireless phones make an astonishing 25 percent or more of the total calls to E-911 nationwide, and that figure is projected to grow. Of those, about 35 percent of the callers cannot clearly identify their location.
While carriers and government agencies have not always seen eye-to-eye, the two share similar concerns when it comes to location services. Both would like to satisfy public safety needs with rapid deployment of wireless location technology. Both see the financial burden of deployment, and both are looking at ways to solve those problems. The best way to address the issues is for both groups to work together.
The Federal Communications Commission has mandated that a comprehensive solution to wireless caller location be deployed by October 2001. For local and state agencies, the challenge is how to rapidly achieve the deployment of much-needed technology for public safety.
Following several recommendations can help both groups meet their goals. First, public agencies must educate themselves about the regulatory, technological and business issues associated with wireless location and then support the carriers’ efforts to test and evaluate the various technological solutions.
From a technical perspective, wireless location technology can be implemented either in the handset, by building global positioning system satellite receivers into the wireless phones, or in the network, using the network’s radio receivers to locate the phone. Handset-based solutions, although at times more accurate than network-based ones, would require replacement of the 60 million wireless phones already in circulation. Network-based solutions, though invisible to the customer, would require hardware at most cell sites and, in some cases, additional antennas.
Second, rather than making decisions on location technology based solely on their own needs, the agencies should work with wireless carriers to help evaluate solutions and assist in emergency response. For example, commercial location services can save time and resources for PSAPs by taking some of the calls they would normally handle, such as dispatching tow trucks or roadside help for minor vehicle breakdowns.
Third, agencies should minimize the constant political debate on levying and disbursement cost recovery because it may delay implementation. Government agencies must be aware that the diverse interests represented in implementing a wireless E-911 solution can slow down the deployment of location technology by shifting resources — and the momentum of public support — to tangential causes.
By seeking opportunities for cooperation and joint implementation with carriers and other suppliers, government agencies can help speed the rapid deployment of wireless location technology. Cooperation will involve mutual understanding of differing agendas and priorities, and a willingness to compromise in order to leverage the privately operated, profit-driven wireless networks for a tangible public benefit.