FCC tests if 911 cell-phone calls can be traced indoors

Nov 30, 2012

FCC tests if 911 cell-phone calls can be traced indoors

As telephones have become untethered and phone numbers are no longer tied to an address, the ability of first responders to pinpoint the location of cellular phone calls to 911 has become increasingly important.

The Federal Communication Commission already requires a level of accuracy for locating the origin of cell phone calls made outdoors, but the technologies being used tend to break down inside buildings. An FCC advisory committee is conducting a study in the San Francisco Bay area to establish benchmarks for the accuracy of current location technologies.

The six-week program is being carried out by a working group of the Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council, made up of industry and government 911 stakeholders. Testing began Nov. 15 and is expected to be completed by year’s end, said Norman Shaw, executive director of government affairs at Polaris Wireless, a company that provides 911 location services, and co-chair of the indoor location working group.

A final report on the current state of the art is expected to be finished in March, which could help to decide whether and how location requirements for 911 calls should be extended indoors.

The committee initially recommended that such requirements were not yet practical. “To extend regulation indoors at this time would be premature because we don’t have any data,” Shaw said. Current tests are intended to provide needed data.

A possible solution considered by CSRIC for indoor 911 is use of commercial location-based services, which deliver ads and other services to mobile devices based on their location. Such a scheme might work, Shaw said, “but there are huge impediments to be overcome.”

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