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Battle Continues to Bring Mobile E911 Up to the Present: Page 2 of 2

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Late last year, I polled the four major carriers regarding their plans to integrate with RapidSOS, and found that while they were all aware of the company and its offerings, none had any plans of moving forward with it. Rather, the carriers preferred to go with the plan being put forth by the PSAP industry.

The PSAP industry's plan for improving mobile E911 accuracy involves two main elements: an improved handset location technology called Device-based Hybrid (DBH) and a National Emergency Address Database (NEAD).

DBH is a location solution that incorporates Wi-Fi location information in conjunction with the current Assisted GPS (A-GPS) and the requirement to transmit that information on 911 calls. The carriers are now adding DBH capability to the requirements they publish to handset manufacturers.

The other element is the ability to match an address to that Wi-Fi access point. CTIA, the cellular industry trade association, has created the NEAD in collaboration with public safety community representatives. West Safety Services will operate the NEAD.

While DBH-capable handsets can report on Wi-Fi access points they see, using that information for public safety dispatch requires that the addresses of those access points be verified. To that end, NEAD is seeking organizations that run large Wi-Fi networks -- cable companies, enterprises, public institutions, etc. -- to contribute their AP address data to the database.

The 2015 FCC location requirements also call for vertical location (i.e., the "z-axis"), a key element in locating callers in tall buildings. GPS can determine altitude if four satellites are visible; however, any indoor location capability is severely impaired with satellite-based GPS.

Vertical location will call for barometers in mobile devices, and for now, the accuracy of those components is all over the lot. The ability to ascertain vertical location can also have an impact on a variety of consumer applications, so the handset industry has a ready incentive to push this forward -- funny how that works.

How all of this shakes out is yet to be determined, though I'm very much behind RapidSOS' campaign to bring this issue forward in the public consciousness. The one point that all reasonable people can agree on is that the mess surrounding location capabilities for mobile 911 callers has gone on far too long. PSAPs are a critical national resource whose value has been nosediving for decades coincident with rising dependency on mobile phones.

While acknowledged experts in 911 communications might be embarrassed to admit they've fallen behind in delivering a service that's relevant in a world that has fully evolved to mobile communications, the machinery is clearly getting into motion. It's difficult to say if private companies like RapidSOS will play a role in that evolution; however, they are taking charge of the PR initiative and we thank them for that.

The major role will fall to the PSAP industry, which must take what is a great national resource, our E911 system, and bring it into the mobile age while not sacrificing its "zero tolerance for failure" philosophy. That philosophy and the industry's ability to deliver on it is what has made E911 service one of the key public safety technology initiatives people have come to trust.

Follow Michael Finneran on Twitter.