TeleCommunication Systems (TCS) today announced during the CTIA show in Las Vegas that its VoLTE9-1-1 service is the first into production with Tier 1 wireless carriers, including two of the largest North American operators.

LTE networks initially were used only for data applications, but voice over LTE (VoLTE) is expected to become commonplace in the near future, so carriers have to provide the capability of dialing 911 via VoLTE, according to Thomas Ginter, vice president of product management for the TCS safety and security group. The TCS VoLTE9-1-1 solution is customizable, letting LTE provide 911 call-routing and location information to public-safety access points (PSAPs).

“As carriers increasingly move toward LTE networks, the ability to handle 911 emergency communications is critical,” Ginter said in a statement. “By leveraging VoLTE9-1-1, network operators are helping to ensure subscribers receive the responsiveness they need in an emergency situation, while expanding coverage to areas where 3G coverage is lacking.”

During an interview with Urgent Communications, Ginter said today’s announcement is indicative of the progress that TCS, carriers and PSAPs are making toward an all-IP, next-generation 911 environment.

“Next generation [911] is kind of the silent glacier moving across the continent, and it’s real,” Ginter said. “There are a lot of deployments, a lot of progress and actually live reassignments that are out there. It’s kind of quiet on the announcement front, because public-safety and state agencies don’t trumpet them.”

While the migration to VoLTE required a “very large” software upgrade for vendors like TCS, the transition for carriers and PSAPs to VoLTE should be much more straightforward than the transition to E-911 was, Ginter said.

“I would say that [the transition to VoLTE] is easier for the PSAPs and the carrier. … It’s completely transparent to them; we make it easy on both ends,” he said. “We’re project management to make it so that both parties can swing independently and the traffic is transparent to them, whether it passes through the legacy architecture or the new architecture.”

Today, the transition to next-generation 911 technology is focused on improving resiliency, reliability and lowering costs for existing 911 functionality, Ginter said. While texting to 911 over the next-generation architecture is getting started, “we’re still a year or two away from really getting lot of multimedia”—for example, pictures and video—delivered to PSAPs via the 911 system, he said.