PARTNER FEATURE: The ability to quickly, accurately and reliably determine the location of an emergency call from a mobile phone can be a matter of life or death. Emergency calls tend to take longer to handle than regular calls, and approx. 300,000 victims experience delays of at least 30 minutes each year in the EU due to a lack of accurate caller location information, as indicated in the Help112 survey published by The European Emergency Numbering Association (EENA) in 2017 (more on this later in this article). Ideally, the locating process will be completely automated, as speed is of the essence in an emergency and any human interaction will slow down the locating process.
With an overwhelming majority of emergency calls, more than 80% in the EU, made on mobile phones, many countries have mandated mobile network operators (MNOs) to provide an emergency locator service. Legal compliance with emergency call location is an effective driver for location technology implementation. Even today, however, there are MNOs without the appropriate solutions, and one such culprit was fined $19.5 million for non-compliance as recently as 2021.
MNOs in the EU were mandated in the early part of this century to provide a caller’s mobile ID to emergency services. The process of obtaining the cell ID is well known, but even today it is not always implemented. Furthermore, cell location in dense urban areas covers 500+ meters and remote areas it can be up to 35 kilometers. Improved accuracy can help reduce rescue times, increase survival rates and save billions in emergency response costs. Enter Advanced Mobile Location (AML).
What is Advanced Mobile Location?
AML, originally developed by BT (UK) with Creativity Software (now part of SS8 Networks) as advisor, combines network and device-based technologies. Using GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems), Cell ID information and Wi-Fi, AML was for a while considered the simplest and fastest method to implement high accuracy in location technology for emergency services. When someone calls 999, 911 or 112, the phone goes into emergency mode, overriding all the normal control rules, meaning that even if a privacy-conscious caller has disabled elements such as GNSS, AML can override that, access the data and share it with emergency services.
EENA’s HELP112 project and report reveal real-world scenarios that demonstrate the critical benefits of higher accuracy in emergency services and discovered that an average of 30 seconds can be saved on each mobile emergency call and over 1.5 minutes on average in rural settings.
During a direct AML trial in Lithuania, a seven-year-old boy found his father unconscious and called emergency services, but did not know where he was. The Cell ID location gave the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) a radius of 14 km, but thanks to the trial, high accuracy AML data was available. This enabled the ambulance to be dispatched without delay to reach and treat the patient for a seizure, saving a life that would otherwise probably have been lost.
AML is an innovative technology, but it is not and should not be implemented as the only solution. Due to the device and various environmental factors, it can succeed in determining an accurate location between 40% and 60% for AML-enabled calls – which can sometimes mean that it does not get the location information to the PSAP in time, if at all.
Most PSAPs want a placement success rate better than 50%, especially in a life-threatening emergency. Although AML has helped move the location of emergency services forward, it still has two challenges, these are 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 with no real auditing of Wi-Fi node locations.
Next-generation technology and the regulatory roadmap
AML offers a significant improvement over the accuracy of the old Cell ID level. But 50% success rate (and slow response times) is still far from ideal. The industry, led by the US FCC, is pushing for the 80th percentile – ie. 80+% of all emergency calls should provide a dispatchable location (<50m error) to the PSAP. SS8 combines both cellular network and handset data with intelligent logic and patented location algorithms to produce the highest possible accuracy and reliability. The more information you can load into the engine, the more accurate your location result will be.
So, since we have the technology to deliver faster more accurate location information, what’s stopping the MNOs from rolling it out? When it comes to making network investments, MNOs have two key considerations, commercial and regulatory. Location falls into both categories, but it is undeniably the regulatory requirements that are their main driver.
The next major legal requirement for placement is under consultation in Europe. MNOs in the EU have been asked to provide feedback on how they can improve the location accuracy of emergency services by the end of 2023. It is expected that the EU and subsequent national governments will take the feedback into account and mandate the provision of high-accuracy location solutions for emergency services, leaving it to the MNOs to implement technology that is up to the job or face massive fines , as in the already mentioned case of 19.5 million
In recent conversations that SS8 has had with MNOs, governments and law enforcement agencies, one thing has become clear: Much education is needed regarding the available technology that can provide high accuracy and reliable location that these organizations depend on. The value of this technology is demonstrable and measurable, as it has been implemented in large parts of North America and in parts of Latin America.
Behind location deployment into 5G rollout
It’s a bit harder to persuade MNOs to adopt the game-changing technology today, as we’re at least two years away from 5G being mandated. The fact that most MNOs are covered today from a regulatory point of view has pushed high-accuracy location deployment further back in a priority list that has 5G rollout at the forefront.
However, this could be the perfect time to roll out high-accuracy location technology. 5G can completely transform location, with the potential for even greater precision, as good as or better than GNSS accuracy levels.
MNOs enjoy the competitive advantage of being first out of the gate with any new technology. They would enjoy the reputational advantage of being able to say they are the most secure network supporting emergency services with the highest reliability, fastest access available today.
MNOs are in a unique position. They have an opportunity to get ahead of the game and save lives. It is likely that the high-accuracy location mandated by the FCC in the US will be followed by the EU and the rest of the world. Make placement your number one priority. Combine the social good of higher accuracy that saves lives with the commercial opportunities that higher accuracy location enables.
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