NextNav optimistic about Z-axis location technology deployment in coming months
Vertical-location, or Z-axis, technology is beginning to gain momentum for both first-responder and 911 applications, as well as attracting increasing attention from the commercial marketplace, according to an official from NextNav, a provider of Z-axis solutions.
In January, FirstNet announced the availability of Z-axis information via technology from NextNav and its partner Intrepid that is designed to provide the vertical location of first responders when inside tall buildings. The announcement was perceived as potentially a solution to a longtime problem cited by public-safety officials.
NextNav also has announced a partnership with 3AM Innovations to provide another path for the firefighting community to access vertical-location information, said Dan Hight, NextNav’s vice president of business development and partnerships. More partnerships and announcements are expected in the near future, he said.
“Obviously, Z-axis has been a very important aspect for first responders, so I would say that the receptivity has been very strong,” Hight said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We have two [partnerships] that we’ve publicly announced, and there’s another one where we’re working on announcement. So, we have a few that have been doing it, and I would say that there’s about a half dozen in various stages of testing.”
“3AM will be making some joint announcements with us as they start launching some of those markets. Hopefully, we’ll be announcing over the next two or three weeks some different cities that will be launching.”
Vertical-location information is important to helping ensure the safety of public-safety personnel, but Z-axis technology also is expected to help accelerate response efforts, because 911 callers from multi-story can be found more quickly. Major carriers have agreed with the FCC to implement Z-axis solutions from companies like NextNav and Polaris Wireless by April 2022.
Hight said that NextNav officials are “certainly hoping” that the company’s experience with first responders in the field will help translate into 911 agreements with carriers in the coming months.
“They [major wireless carriers] have to get to the floor-level accuracy for the top 25 cellular market areas by April of next year,” Hight said. “So, sometime between now and April of next year, that solution will have to be out there. They’ve committed to that, so that’s when it has to be done. In terms of when that actually comes to fruition, I’d need a crystal ball.
“We’re happy that the FCC has made some decisions and has some agreements, at least from the major carriers. Anything that helps make the public and first responders safer is a step in the right direction. Obviously, floor-level accuracy is a must when it comes to public safety, because seconds count.”
To provide the 911 vertical-location functionality, NextNav has made integration announcements with handset makers Motorola Mobility and Sonim Technologies, Hight said. More agreements with service providers and device manufacturers are expected to become public during the next several months.
“We have some providers that are doing some testing with us right now from a 911 perspective, and we expect announcements in that arena in the not-to-distant future, hopefully,” Hight said. “We’re excited to bring this to the 911 side of the house, but there is nothing [to announce] as of yet.
“We’ve been working in a multitude of phases, from a carrier perspective and from a device perspective. We’ve announced a couple of partnerships with a couple of device manufacturers. Motorola [Mobility] was one of them, and Sonim was another one that will be integrating our actual service at the device level, which is obviously an important step from a 911 perspective. There are various conversations and activities going on from a carrier space.”
Hight said he believes that NextNav—already deployed in more than 105 markets, covering the vast majority of U.S. building that are more than two stories tall—is positioned well to address public-safety needs for Z-axis location information.
“We’re just excited that Z-axis [location] is finally starting to resonate in the market,” Hight said. “As we look at the space overall, the fact that the FCC is mandating that it be done is obviously a huge step in the right direction.
“From a first-responder and a broader public-safety perspective, we feel very strongly that floor-level accuracy is what really matters at the end of the day. The fact that our [solution] does not just meet, but exceeds, the FCC standards for that—with 94% accuracy, plus or minus 3 meters—you can’t get much better than that.”
In addition, NextNav is seeing increased interest by the commercial marketplace to leverage vertical-location technology, according to Hight.
“You’re starting to get the market as a whole to step up and think about this a lot more; just like GPS was brought to devices because of 911 and public safety, we expect very similar things with Z-axis,” he said.
“As you start to look at commercial applications—some of these game developers and some of these engines that are building the next generation of augmented-reality solutions—the Z-axis is going to be a very important thing to make 3D real for a lot of people.”