Partner Features: The ability to quickly, accurately and reliably determine the location of an emergency services call from a mobile phone can be a matter of life and death. Emergency mobile calls tend to take longer to handle than landlines, and around 300,000 victims in the EU experience delays of at least 30 minutes each year due to a lack of accurate caller location information, as stated in the Help112 study published by the European Emergency Numbers Association ( EENA) in 2017 (more on that later in this article). Ideally, the locating process would be fully automated, as speed is of the essence in emergency situations and any human interaction would slow down the locating process.
Since the vast majority of emergency calls (over 80% in the European Union) are made from mobile phones, many countries have made it mandatory for mobile network operators (MNOs) to provide emergency caller location services. Regulatory compliance for emergency caller location is an effective driver for location technology deployment. Still, even today, there are some MNOs without solutions in place, one of the culprits being fined $19.5 million in 2021 for non-compliance.
MNOs in the EU were made mandatory in the early 2000s to provide emergency services with a caller’s Cell ID. The process of obtaining a Cell ID is well understood, but not always implemented even today. Furthermore, in dense urban areas, cellular locations cover more than 500 meters, while remote areas can reach up to 35 kilometers. Improved accuracy can help reduce rescue time, improve survival rates and save billions of dollars in emergency response costs. Enter Advanced Mobile Location (AML).
What is Advanced Mobile Targeting?
Originally designed by BT (UK) with consultancy Creativity Software (now part of SS8 Networks), AML combines network and device-based technologies. Using GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System), cell ID information and Wi-Fi, AML was once considered the easiest and fastest way to achieve high precision positioning technology for emergency services. When someone dials 999, 911 or 112, the phone goes into emergency mode and all normal control rules are overridden for emergency services.
EENA’s HELP112 project and report uncovers real-world scenarios that demonstrate the key benefits of greater accuracy in emergency services and finds an average savings of 30 seconds per mobile emergency call and 1.5 minutes in rural settings above.
In a field AML trial in Lithuania, a 7-year-old boy found his father unconscious and called emergency services, but he did not know his location. Cell ID locations provide a radius of 14 kilometers for Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), but thanks to the trials, high-precision AML data were available. This allowed ambulances to arrive and treat the seizure patient without delay, saving a life that would have been lost.
AML is an innovative technology, but it is not and should not be deployed as the only solution. Due to equipment and various environmental factors, the success rate for determining the exact location for an AML-enabled call is between 40% and 60% – which can sometimes mean that it does not send the location information to the PSAP in time, if at all.
Most PSAPs expect a location success rate greater than 50%, especially in life-threatening emergencies. Although AML has helped advance the development of emergency services positioning, it still faces two challenges, reliance on GNSS and Wi-Fi. In dense urban areas with large buildings, GNSS reliability is reduced. AML relies on Wi-Fi in these areas, but this is an open source resource and there is no real audit of Wi-Fi node locations.
Next Generation Technology and Regulatory Roadmap
AML is a significant improvement over the old Cell ID level accuracy. But a 50% success rate (and slow response time) is still far from ideal. The industry, led by the US FCC, is pushing for the 80th percentile, where more than 80% of all emergency calls should provide a dispatchable location (<50m error) to a PSAP. SS8 combines mobile network and cell phone data with intelligent logic and patented positioning algorithms to produce the highest possible accuracy and reliability. The more information you can feed into the engine, the more accurate your targeting results will be.
So, now that we have the technology to deliver location information faster and more accurately, what’s stopping MNOs from rolling it out? When making network investments, MNOs have two key considerations: commercial and regulatory. Locations fall into both categories, but there is no denying that regulatory requirements are their main drivers.
The next major location regulatory requirements are being negotiated in Europe. Mobile network operators in the EU have been asked to provide feedback on how to improve location accuracy for emergency services by the end of 2023. The EU and national governments are expected to take this feedback into account and make it mandatory for high-precision positioning solutions for emergency services to allow mobile network operators to deploy technology that works, or face hefty fines, as in the already mentioned $19.5 million case.
In recent conversations between SS8 and mobile network operators, governments and law enforcement agencies, one thing has become clear: a great deal of education is needed in the technologies available that can provide the highly accurate and reliable location these organizations rely on. The value of this technology is demonstrable and measurable, as it is already deployed in most of North America and parts of Latin America.
Incorporating Location Deployment into 5G Deployments
Convincing MNOs to adopt the game-changing technology is a bit of a stretch right now, considering we’re at least two years away from mandatory 5G. In fact, most mobile network operators are protected today from a regulatory perspective, pushing hyperlocation deployments further back on the priority list led by 5G rollout.
However, this may be the perfect time to roll out high-precision positioning technology. 5G can completely change location and potentially achieve higher levels of accuracy that are as good or better than GNSS accuracy levels.
MNOs enjoy the competitive advantage of being the first to adopt any new technology. They will relish the reputational advantage of being able to say they are the safest network, backing emergency services with the most reliable and fastest access available today.
MNOs are in a unique position. They have the opportunity to get a head start and save lives. High-precision positioning mandated by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is likely to be followed by the European Union and the rest of the world. Make location your number one priority. Combine the social good of higher precision that saves lives with the business opportunity that higher precision positioning brings.
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