In late September, I returned to IWCE for the first time since the pandemic cancelled last year’s in-person event where I was scheduled to join a panel on Advances in Location Technologies. This year I participated in a panel titled Location, Location, Location: Keys for Incident Response that was moderated by Joe Hanna, Principal, Directions and included David Furth, Deputy Chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, FCC; Brandon Abley, Technical Issues Director for NENA: The 9-1-1 Association; and Christy Williams, Director of 9-1-1, NCTCOG. Polaris Wireless was invited to join following our recent announcement with Qualcomm. We had a full agenda and could have continued for quite some time. Despite not having time for audience questions and an abbreviated after-session period to allow for cleaning protocols, we received significant interest proving that, for much of the industry, high-accuracy location of emergency callers remains an important topic.
Joe kicked off the session describing the early history leading up to the first wireless location requirements. His assessment is that, while we have come a long way, many of the same issues persist in getting regulation in place and solutions deployed. Next, David provided an overview of the indoor XY and vertical location accuracy requirements and milestones, summarizing the carriers’ consent decrees following the Bureau’s Enforcement Division inquiry into the carriers failing to meet this year’s April milestone. Brandon outlined a 3D GIS requirements document that NENA is spearheading. This effort is intended to provide actionable context and visualization around the z-axis measurement, or “blue dot in the sky”. Christy described the value of location to PSAPs and provided examples of what the call-taker goes through during and after a call. She also emphasized that finding the caller is a common theme on what to do better.
Following this wide-ranging set of perspectives, I focused on implementation of z-axis technology. My key points included:
- FCC-compliant z-axis technology is here today with barometric-based solutions proven to meet the FCC’s accuracy requirement.
- Apple and Google have created a duopoly for mobile location due to their current and potential future control of access to certain sensors within devices using iOS and Android operating systems. Neither OS solution has demonstrated the ability to achieve FCC-compliant vertical location, although it is generally understood both will participate in upcoming CTIA Test Bed Stage Zb testing.
- Our recent focus has been on devices using KaiOS and Android Open Source Project (AOSP) operating systems which currently have no available z-axis solution. Supporting these devices includes work with many key stakeholders including the device OEMs, OS vendors, chipmakers, other location vendors, and carriers. We have done all of that and are now finalizing complete end-to-end z-axis solutions for E911.
- Finally, there is a lot of talk about evolving technology from z-axis measurement to floor level information, room number, and Dispatchable Location. All this is good but does not yet exist in a reliably deployable manner. The industry will get there but the wait for E911 z-axis location we need to start with what is available today. Also, technology improvements are inevitable when innovation is rewarded. Without any rewards, innovation finds another market to serve.
- My punchline for the panel is that “the wait needs to be over.” Barometric-based z-axis location technology is proven, is being implemented for KaiOS and AOSP devices, and will undoubtedly help save lives through faster response times to 911 calls for subscribers.
With this panel focused on z-axis location for E911, and another panel at IWCE on z-axis for First Responders, it is important to note that Polaris Wireless 3D location serves both of these markets as well as a variety of commercial applications. It was exciting to be back in person among my industry peers and sharing ideas. Throughout the pandemic, public safety from the Emergency Communications Centers to First Responders never took a break from doing their jobs serving their communities. I definitely left Las Vegas with hope that the tide is turning and the wireless carriers are now ready to provide public safety with location capabilities that are available and proven. Polaris Wireless will continue our part of innovating 3D location, and I look forward to sharing new developments with you!