New FCC Rules Change Wireless Location Requirements

Posted by John Baker on February 21, 2011

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission modified the E911 caller location regulations for wireless emergency calls in September 2010. One of the key changes is the specification that carriers must now achieve accuracy compliance in geographic areas no larger than counties. This change is especially significant for some carriers that have until now statistically averaged accuracy compliance performance over much larger areas, in many cases across entire states and in some cases across their entire nationwide footprint.

The FCC changed the rules in recognition of the fact that wireless location technologies can exhibit very different accuracy and reliability characteristics in different environments (rural vs. urban, for instance). For network-based caller location technologies, when urban areas are averaged with rural areas, urban high site density can provide such a high level of accuracy and traffic weighting that the averaged overall performance can mask significantly lower performance in less dense, rural counties. The FCC’s goal in updating the rules was to assure more consistent E911 caller location performance, regardless of the nature of the operating environment.

The modified federal regulation establishes a number of milestones toward the final point of complete compliance with the new rules. The first milestone, coming in January 2012, requires wireless operators to demonstrate that they are on the path to full compliance with the new county-level location accuracy requirements. In addition, carriers may now under certain conditions “blend” location accuracy measurements from handset-based location technologies with network-based technologies, and exclude certain especially challenging areas from measurement. Carriers have not yet stated how they intend to apply blending or exclusion areas to meet the new requirements.

The regulation mandates full compliance in eight years. Incidentally, indoor measurements are specifically excluded in the recent regulation but are the subject of anticipated additional rulemaking.

It is certainly possible, depending on the carrier’s implementation of location technology, that a carrier may find that some of its service areas are not in compliance with FCC accuracy requirements when measured at the county-level.

Carriers will need to determine what remedial action to take in such cases.

About the Author

John Baker

John Baker is vice president and general manager, Network Solutions, for Andrew Solutions, a division of CommScope, Inc. In this role, Mr. Baker oversees a group that supplies location, test and measurement, spectrum management, and other RF site solutions to the wireless industry. Prior to joining Andrew Corporation in August 2004, Mr. Baker held senior positions with leading wireless companies including vice president of PCS/DCS Base Stations at Nokia and vice president of technology and chief technology officer at Pacific Bell Mobile Systems. Mr. Baker also contributed significantly in the development of the GSM standards. He graduated with an honors degree in electrical and electronic engineering from Loughborough University, Leicestershire, UK.

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