Can Operators No Longer Use Their Networks for E-911 Location?

John Baker July 15, 2011

Those of you following the wireless location industry know that the Federal Communications Commission issued a new order about wireless E-911 to US operators on July 12. Unfortunately, there has been some confusion about what this new order mandates. Some news coverage makes it sound like the FCC has ruled operators will no longer be able to use network-based caller locating technologies after eight years. Others have implied that the FCC is ruling in favor of certain locating technologies over others.

None of that is true.

What the FCC ordered has to do with location accuracy ranges, not locating technologies. Existing wireless operators in the US will need to meet overall more stringent locating requirements at some point after January 2019. Carriers deploying new stand-alone networks after the effective date of the order also will be required to meet the more stringent location accuracy requirements currently specified for handset-based solutions, which mandate that wireless carriers identify a caller’s location for a specified percentage of 911 calls within a range of 50 to 150 meters. That is a tighter range than the up to 300 meters that has been allowed.

How the wireless operators meet these strengthened requirements is not being dictated to them by the FCC. In fact, the Commission expressly stated that carriers could use network-based solutions or to combine network and handset-based techniques if they can meet the 50/150 accuracy standard. In all likelihood, carriers will use multiple caller location technologies in the future to meet the new criteria, as they do today.

The confusion has come about because the FCC press release mentions handset- and network-based technology. Those terms are about a decade old and no longer accurately reflect how most locating takes place in wireless networks. Of the many location technologies in use today, there are few that can be accurately described as solely network- or handset-based. Hybrid technologies are a case in point, and there are many other examples.

We have always maintained at CommScope that high performance wireless location typically requires more than one locating technology. Simply stated, there is no single wireless location technology that alone can produce accurate locations under all conditions. That is why our GeoLENs® mobile location center supports almost all locating technologies and can use them in combination to produce the best results. We also have been anticipating the need for location enablement in VoIP and indoor wireless networks, which the FCC press release also mentions. Our GeoLENs location information server supports automatic caller location for IP-based communications including VoIP service, while GeoLENs Indoor augments wireless caller location for in-building environments.

More information will likely be coming from the FCC about VoIP and indoor wireless location, but the July 12 ruling affirms the evolution to tighter location requirements for E-911 sometime after January 2019.

Were you expecting this FCC move? How do you plan to meet these new requirements?

Leave me a comment below.

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.