Location Accuracy Vendors Cite Issues with 911 Order

Representatives of two 911 location accuracy technology vendors today cited potential difficulties in implementing an order the FCC adopted last month (TRDaily, Jan. 29) to improve accuracy, but an FCC official and a wireless carrier representative stressed the benefits of the rules, as well as a road map hammered out by the four national carriers and two major public safety groups.

During a session this morning at a meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners’ Telecommunications Committee at NARUC’s winter meetings, Timothy May, NG-911 projects manager in the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, stressed that the order is “a turning point,” noting among other things that it “establishes clear metrics and timelines” for carriers to improve 911 location accuracy, including indoors.

Mr. May also noted that the order requires the establishment of “an open, independent, transparent, and realistic test bed” and the use of live 911 call data for monitoring and reporting, adding that it will ensure that “we have the data we need to measure progress and hold parties accountable.” He also emphasized the benefits of carriers providing first responders dispatchable locations to find people in need, which he called “a game-changer.”

Eric Hagerson, senior regulatory affairs manager for T-Mobile US, Inc., said the road map signed by the four national carriers, the National Emergency Number Association, and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International was “a paradigm shift” that was a product of consensus that avoided the contentious process, including litigation, seen in the past in the deployment of 911 services.

Mr. Hagerson also said that the road map sought to ensure that commercial technologies could be leveraged to provide greater 911 location accuracy, adding that technology improvements will now drive 911 location accuracy improvements.  He also said the road map sought to ensure solutions that could be deployed in a reasonable timeframe, which he said FCC rules proposed last year (TRDaily, Feb. 20, 2014) would not have done.

Mr. Hagerson also said that signatories to the road map are in the process of forming six working groups to focus on implementation of the order and are reaching out to vendors, public safety representatives, disability rights advocates, and others to participate.

Rash Mia, senior vice president-technology and chief scientist for TruePosition, Inc., a location technology vendor that has been critical of the FCC’s order, said there is “a lot of uncertainty” about how the new rules will be implemented. For example, he said the rules don’t do anything to ensure that calls are routed to the correct public safety answering points (PSAPs) and noted that the order does not apply a new latency mandate to indoor calls.

Mr. Mia also said that the rules “seem very unclear about how the accuracy will be validated.” He said there is no way of telling which calls are coming from indoors or outdoors, and he questioned how the test bed will address that.

Chris Gates, vice president-strategy & development for NextNav LLC, a location technology vendor that also has been critical of the rules, said testing of the exact technology to be deployed will be crucial and said universal and transparent monitoring of carrier performance is important. He also said new technologies will be needed to meet the later milestones in the FCC’s order.

Mr. Gates also said that an important part of the order is giving PSAPs the ability to seek enforcement action if carriers don’t address issues related to adequate location accuracy in their areas.  He also said it remains to be seen whether first responders will be able to locate all callers using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth access points, saying that in some cases they may locate the access point, not the caller.

Panelists were asked questions from commissioners concerning the use of GLONASS and the privacy of consumer data used in a 911 database.

Regarding GLONASS, the FCC in its order does not give carriers authorization to utilize signals from non-U.S. satellite systems, such as GLONASS, the Russian satellite navigation system. If any carriers want to use signals from non-U.S.-licensed satellite systems, the Commission would review such a request. That language addresses concerns that use of GLONASS could compromise U.S. national security and safety. Mr. May cited that provision in response to the question about GLONASS.

Tim Lorello, SVP and chief marketing officer of TeleCommunication Systems, Inc., said there are mechanisms in the 911 system to control whether GLONASS or another foreign satellite system is used.

“Quite frankly, a little bit too much has been made with the issue of GLONASS,” Mr. Hagerson said. “It really is not a national security issue. It’s just an additional tool, an additional satellite constellation, to allow for better location accuracy, he added. “It’s not going to shut down America’s 911 system or anything like that.”

The panelists also cited steps the FCC is requiring to protect the privacy of consumer data, including requiring carriers to submit a privacy and security plan for the database within 18 months. – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily