Speculation rampant as FCC vote nears on 911 location-accuracy rules
Public-safety and industry representatives spent much of Monday scrambling for information about the conditions to be included in the 911 location-accuracy proposed rules that are scheduled to be voted upon by FCC commissioners during Thursday’s open meeting.
In an ex parte filing submitted on Monday night, wireless trade association CTIA noted that the four nationwide carriers—AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile—have agreed to additional performance metrics within two years and within five years to accompany the three-year and six-year goals previously included.
Overall, the commitments would call for these carriers to provide public-safety answering points (PSAPs) with “a location fix using heightened location-accuracy technologies” within the following timelines:
- 40% of all wireless 911 calls within two years;
- 50% of all wireless 911 calls within three years;
- 60% of all wireless 911 calls within five years; and
- 80% of all wireless 911 calls within six years.
In addition, the CTIA filing states that the carriers would agree to a rule requiring them to deliver uncompensated barometric-pressure data—used to determine the altitude or vertical Z-axis—to PSAPs within three years, assuming the 911 caller’s device supports the data and delivery capability.
Last week, multiple Beltway sources indicated that the draft order prepared by FCC staff included language that would not include location data from GPS-based technologies in the performance threshold metrics. Proponents of this approach believe it would have a greater impact on indoor location accuracy, because satellite signals often cannot penetrate buildings.
Carrier representatives have argued that there is no way to discern whether a 911 call is coming from an indoor or outdoor location, so all wireless emergency calls should be included in any performance metrics. Critics of this approach have expressed concern that this approach would not require carriers to develop and deploy indoor solutions, because carriers could meet the threshold metrics simply by improving outdoor location information. Better outdoor location accuracy is expected with the proposed leveraging of additional satellite systems, such as the Russian GLONASS constellation.
Multiple media reports indicate that at least one Democratic FCC commissioner has embraced the carriers’ proposal to include all wireless calls in the location-accuracy performance metrics. Both Republican FCC commissioners are expected to take the same position, which would create a majority on the commission.
If the carriers’ proposed rules are adopted, most industry observers believe that proposed indoor location-accuracy solutions from NextNav, TruePosition and Polaris Wireless—companies that led the location-accuracy dialogue for most of the FCC’s proceeding—would not be deployed widely by the carriers.
“The carriers don’t want to spend money on this, if they can help it,” said Jamie Barnett, the director of the Find Me 911 coalition that represents many location-technology firms.
Carriers prefer to utilize technologies that leverage technologies already inside most commercial handsets—Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and satellite-based location—instead of being required to pay for the implementation of location-specific technology, Barnett said.
But carriers plan to make significant investments as part of their roadmap, according to Scott Bergmann, CTIA’s vice president of regulatory affairs. The carriers’ amended roadmap calls for carriers to deploy at least one location reference point—a Wi-Fi system or a Bluetooth beacon—under their “direct control” for every four people in the 50 most populous cellular market areas (CMAs), Bergmann said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications.