PARTNER FEATURE: The ability to quickly, accurately and reliably determine the location of a call made to emergency services from a mobile phone can be a matter of life or death. Emergency mobile calls tend to take longer to handle than fixed calls and approximately 300,000 victims each year experience delays of at least 30 minutes in the EU due to a lack of accurate caller location information as stated in the Help112 study published by The European Emergency Numbering Association (EENA) in 2017 (of which more later in this article). Ideally, the location process will be entirely automated since speed is of the essence in an emergency, and any human interaction will slow the location process down.
With an overwhelming majority of emergency calls, greater than 80% in the EU, being made on mobile phones, many countries have mandated mobile network operators (MNOs) to provide an emergency caller location service. Regulatory compliance for emergency caller location is an effective driver for the deployment of location technology. Even today, though, 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 Cell ID to emergency services. The process for obtaining the Cell ID is well understood, but even today is not always implemented. Furthermore, in dense urbans areas cell location covers 500+ meters and remote areas it can be up to 35 kilometres. 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 devised by BT (UK) with Creativity Software (now part of SS8 Networks) as an advisor, combines network and device-based technologies. Using GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite Systems), Cell ID information and Wi-Fi, AML was for a while viewed as the simplest and quickest method to implement high accuracy in location technology for emergency services. When someone dials 999, 911 or 112, the phone goes into emergency mode, all the normal control rules are overwritten meaning even if a privacy-conscious caller has disabled elements such as GNSS, AML can override that, access the data and share it with the emergency services.
EENA’s HELP112 project and report reveals real world scenarios that demonstrate the critical benefits of higher accuracy in emergency services and discovered 30 seconds can be saved on average on every mobile emergency call, and over 1.5 minutes on average in rural environments.
During a live AML trial in Lithuania, a seven-year-old boy found his father unconscious and called emergency services but did not know his location. The Cell ID location gave the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) a radius of 14km, 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 have likely been lost.
AML is an innovative technology, but it is not, and should not be deployed as the only solution. Due to device and various environmental factors, determining an accurate location can be successful anywhere between 40% and 60% for AML-enabled calls – which can sometimes mean it is not getting the location information to the PSAP in time, if at all.
Most PSAPs would want a location success rate better than 50%, especially in a life-threatening emergency. Even though AML has helped move emergency services location forward, it still has two challenges, these are a 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 audit for the location of the Wi-Fi nodes.
Next gen technology & the regulatory roadmap
AML offers a significant improvement from the old Cell ID level accuracy. But 50% success rate (and sluggish response times) are still far from ideal. The industry, led by the U.S. FCC, is pushing for the 80th percentile—i.e., 80+% of all emergency calls should provide a dispatchable location (<50m error) to the PSAP. SS8 combines both mobile network and handset data with intelligent logic and patented location algorithms, to produce the highest possible accuracy and reliability. The more information you can feed into the engine the more accurate your location result will be.
So, as 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 undeniably it is the regulatory requirements that are their main driver.
The next major regulatory requirement for location is under consultation in Europe. MNOs in the EU have been asked to provide feedback on how they can improve location accuracy for emergency services by end of 2023. It is expected that the EU and then national governments will take the feedback into consideration and mandate the provision of high accuracy location solutions to emergency services leaving it up to the MNOs to deploy technology that is up to the job or face massive fines, as in the $19.5m case already cited.
In recent conversations SS8 has been having with MNOs, Governments and Law Enforcement Agencies, one thing has become apparent: there is much education needed with regards to the technology available 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 deployed in much of North America and in parts of Latin America.
Bake location deployment into 5G rollout
Persuading MNOs to adopt the game changing technology today is a little harder, given we are at least two years away from 5G being mandated. The fact that most MNOs are covered today from a regulatory standpoint has pushed high accuracy location deployment further back in a priorities list that features 5G rollout at its head.
However, this could be the perfect time to roll out high accuracy location technology. 5G can transform location completely, with the potential for even greater precision, as good or better than GNSS levels of accuracy.
MNOs enjoy the competitive advantage of being first out the gate with any new technology. They would relish the reputational benefit of being able to say that they are the safest network, that supports emergency services with the highest reliable, 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 high accuracy location mandated by the FCC in the U.S. will be followed by the EU and the rest of the world. Make location your number one priority. Combine the societal good of higher accuracy that save lives with the commercial opportunities that higher accuracy location enables.