With FCC officials indicating that they would establish rules regarding location accuracy for indoor 911 calls from cell phones, the four nationwide wireless carriers on Friday announced a voluntary agreement with two key public-safety organizations on the topic, although other first-responder groups expressed objections to the deal.

In the agreement signed with the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), the four nationwide U.S. cellular carriers—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon—promise to provide public safety with a “dispatchable location” for many 911 calls and meet benchmarks that begin within two years.

“The proposed solution harnesses the availability of Wi-Fi® and Bluetooth® technologies that are already deployed and expected to expand significantly in the near term,” according to a joint press release issued Friday afternoon from the parties to the agreement.

Features of the agreement include timelines to verify technologies and vendor performance in a testbed environment; to demonstrate, implement and develop standards for database and handset capabilities; and to improve existing location-based technologies both indoors and outdoors.

Four key benchmarks of the deal call for the four wireless carriers to provide “a location fix using heightened location-accuracy technologies” for wireless 911 calls based on the following timetables included in the joint press release:

  • 40% of all wireless 9-1-1 calls within two years;
  • 50% of all wireless 9-1-1 calls within three years;
  • 75% of all voice-over-LTE (VoLTE) wireless 9-1-1 calls within five years; and
  •  80% of all VoLTE wireless 9-1-1 calls within six years.

“This agreement represents a blueprint for the improvement of 9-1-1 location accuracy, both indoors and outdoors,” NENA President Christy Williams said in a prepared statement. “NENA looks forward to working with APCO and the carriers over the established timeframes to develop the details of the blueprint that will ultimately better serve the needs of all who dial 9-1-1, indoors or out.”

APCO Executive Director Derek Poarch echoed this sentiment.

 “APCO is very appreciative of the professionalism and dedication of its partners in achieving a consensus solution that we can all be proud of and that, most importantly, will provide meaningful location information to our nation’s dedicated and hardworking public safety communications professionals and first responders as they daily serve the emergency needs of their citizens,” Poarch said in a prepared statement.

Also expressing support for the deal was Meredith Attwell Baker, president and CEO of CTIA, the trade association for major wireless carriers.

“A 911 call is the most important call a wireless consumer makes," Baker said in a prepared statement. "This agreement represents meaningful, significant and achievable goals to provide first responders with the information they need to respond to wireless 911 calls. The FCC issued our industry a challenge, and we are proud of our ability to deliver a clear road map to critical 911 enhancements that meet the high standards and requirements of our nation’s leading public-safety organizations.”

Under current FCC rules, carriers are required to provide the longitude and latitude—or XY—coordinates for outdoor calls from wireless phones, typically using location information based on GPS or network-triangulation technologies.

However, no such location-accuracy requirements exist for 911 calls made from cell phones being used inside of a building or other structure, where GPS and triangulation approaches are hindered by the fact that the wireless device’s radio signal is greatly diminished or impossible to detect outdoors.

In February, the FCC initiated a proceeding to examine potential rules that would require carriers to provide XY coordinates and a vertical—or Z—coordinate for indoor 911 calls from cell phones. Representatives for cellular carriers expressed concerns that the FCC’s proposal may not be technically viable within the stated timelines and noted that public-safety officials had expressed a desire for a dispatchable location rather than XYZ coordinates.

Indeed, perhaps the most important definition in the agreement is for “dispatchable location,” which is deemed to be “the civic address of the calling party plus additional information such as floor, suite, apartment or similar information that may be needed to adequately identify the location of the calling party,” according to the joint press release.