Don Bishop 2017-08-01 07:32:34
Wireless handsets that can connect with the internet of things access points may improve indoor location accuracy for 9-1-1 calls. LTE technology may help call centers enable texting. And, the FirstNet network may extend video and other imagery from 911 calls to first responders. When someone places a call to 911, the call-taker needs to know the caller’s location — and quickly. It is usually the first or second question the call-taker asks, according to Brian Fontes, CEO of the National Emergency Number Association. The association, which identifies itself as NENA: The 9-1-1 Association, is a membership organization of people who work in 911 call centers and others who seek to improve 911 emergency number service. “We live in a connected world, and it is going to become more connected with the internet of things,” Fontes said, speaking during a conference session at the Las Vegas Convention Center in March. “We need a sea change from what has previously been done to identify the location of someone placing a 911 call.” Fontes recalled that in the 1990s and early 2000s, 911 systems used two methods of automatically determining a caller’s location when the call came from a wireless device. One involved direction-finding using intelligence in the network, along with radio signal triangulation with the cell phone and cell towers. The second, which came later, used the Global Positioning Service earth-orbiting satellites to provide locations, which used more intelligence in the handsets, although some intelligence remained in the network. But, Fontes said, callers remain tethered to their service pro-sigvider, and therefore to whomever the service provider is, in turn, tethered to, to provide location accuracy. The most recent efforts to improve location accuracy move beyond the world of the carrier, Fontes said. He reported that, even though the FCC rules are placed upon the wireless service providers, the most current rules enacted by the FCC take a look at indoor location. Fontes cited the statistics that there are 240 to 250 million wireless calls to 911 annually, 70 to 80 percent of which are wireless. He said that more than 50 percent of U.S. households are wireless-only homes, not counting offices and other locations. “The number of calls coming from indoor locations is certainly a factor to be dealt with when you’re trying to locate somebody making a 911 call,” he said. Fontes said that wireless carriers, NENA and the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) have agreed to steps that carriers can take to look beyond their networks to improve location accuracy. “That’s a big risk, because once you move outside of a network, the control that the carriers have slips away,” he said. “And yet, the requirements for location accuracy imposed by the FCC are imposed on the carrier. So now, what can be done and what is being done?” Wireless devices connect through a variety of technologies, including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, sensors and beacons. Fontes explained that within their environment, wireless phones have the capability of interacting with many other wireless access points that can provide better location capabilities. “Earlier, I checked to see how many Wi-Fi hot spots in the convention center my phone was detecting,” he said. “I think there are about a dozen, maybe 14. Each of those has various levels of strength that provide some capability of determining where I am vis-à-vis those hotspots. In addition to that, we should take a look at the advent of beacons and sensors. The price of beacons and sensors is decreasing, making it much more affordable to be included in a variety of products.” Fontes spoke of the possibility of having sensors dispersed in a transient type of environment to provide some location capabilities for a particular event. Fixed Location and Address He said he bought a microcell to use in a secondary residence to improve wireless coverage. The microcell registered with the wireless carrier’s database, providing its fixed location and address, which greatly improves 911 location accuracy. “As part of the agreement with the carriers, the FCC recognized and codified in its regulations the use of a database that’s being developed by the carriers to provide that list, the National Address Database, whether it’s Wi-Fi hotspots, picocells, beacons or sensors,” Fontes said. As the database becomes more populated, Fontes said, the capabilities of working to improve location accuracy for the individual advances remarkably, particularly in comparison with the technologies of location accuracy — whether network-based solutions or GPS — especially indoors. Outdated Voice-centric Service Fontes said that in large part, technology from the previous century supports 911 service, and that means it is voicecentric. “How ridiculous is that?” he asked. “The voice call is the start of a series of responses in the public safety family of services that provides the response to emergency situations.” With the eventual establishment of a nationwide public safety broadband network based on Long Term Evolution (LTE) high-speed wireless data technology, Fontes said the goal is to provide seamless links among the smart technologies that all of us have at our fingertips, smart technology in the 911 center and the smart technology used by the field responders via the new network. The new network is being built by AT&T under a contract awarded by a federal agency, the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). LTE technology supports video and texting. Fontes said that when an audiovisual component is added to any type of communication, it is possible for experts to pick up cues that others’ eyes may not detect. “When that 911 call comes in — perhaps it’s a horrible situation in a school or a mall or whatever — with a video and voice component, you may be able to push that video, that voice off to others who are experts in detecting what’s going on in the environment, while the 911 professional is dealing with what needs to be addressed in the dispatch context.” Fontes said texting is critically important. He said only 10 to 15 percent of 911 centers enable texting. “We have 37 million to 42 million Americans who are deaf, hard of hearing or speech-impaired who rely on texting,” he said. “In addition to that, we know of unfortunate situations where texting would be safer than speaking — whether it’s a mass incident type of a situation, such as a mass shooting, or domestic violence.” He said in such situations, a caller with texting might be better able to survive than if the caller had to use voice. 21st-century Technology “We have a long way to go,” Fontes said. “It’s politics. It’s money. The easiest part of all of this is technology. I’m grateful for all of those who have worked so hard to improve the technological capabilities that enable field responders to respond to emergencies with greater information, and for the standards work that’s being done by all of these organizations. I hope that in the context of what is happening in public safety at large, we as a nation will improve our next-generation 911 to make it in fact 21st-century technology.” Brian Fontes spoke on March 27 at the International Wireless Communications Expo’s Network Infrastructure Forum during the in-building wireless session moderated by the author.
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