Canadian safety officials are concerned that the country is lagging far behind their U.S. counterparts when it comes to implementing wireless-enabled 911 services, a report new IDC Canada Ltd. says.

Despite releasing a policy report on the issue in February, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s still isn’t showing enough leadership on the issue, according to public safety experts cited in the report.

The new CRTC regulatory policy will require Canadian wireless carriers to enter into Phase II of its E911 services plan, which will allow emergency responders to accurately determine the location of wireless 911 calls, by February 2010.

IDC Canada survey respondents, comprised of safety officials at first responder organizations, applauded the CRTC policy in general, but still want to see better adoption timelines and performance metrics added to the policy. Lawrence Surtees, a principal analyst covering communications research at Toronto-based IDC Canada, said that despite the CRTC policy deadline, the public safety community will be in for a few surprises come next February.

“Some important elements have been deferred to a second stage of Phase II,” Surtees said. For instance, while U.S. wireless service providers are required to provide location information for subscribers of foreign companies that roam on their service, the CRTC policy does not cover this capability, he said.

Surtees said the issue of whether roaming mobile users will be able to be tracked location-based emergency dispatch services has been deferred by the CRTC to an unspecified stage two of Phase II.

Another serious issue with the CRTC policy, which was pointed out by many of the first responder organizations Surtees’ interviewed, was the lack of any performance metrics. For E911 services in the U.S., wireless providers must use network-based locations to pin 67 per cent of calls within 100 metres and 95 per cent of calls within 300 metres, Surtees stated in the report.

“The CRTC has not imposed a requirement on wireless companies to have to report their performance and accuracy in Phase II,” he said. “The public safety communications agencies will tell you, unless they have a report about those metrics, it’s hard to know where things are at and how they can improve on the service.”

Other concerns include the need for greater transparency from wireless carriers regarding the 911 service fees they currently collect from their customers, the percentage of mobile phones in Canada that currently have Phase II E911 location capabilities, and the CRTC’s deferral on the issue of mid-call location updates for 911 callers who might be in a vehicle and on-the-move when dialing for an emergency.

But despite these criticisms, Bernard Lord, president and CEO of the Ottawa-based Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, said Phase II should be applauded and should help make a very good service even better for Canadians.

“Wireless 911 service in Canada is working extremely well right now with more than half of all 911 calls being made from wireless devices,” he said. “We have one of the most advanced systems in the world and now the plan is to deploy more resources for infrastructure and improve location identification.”

According to Lord, wireless providers will have to continue working with the CRTC to ensure that cell phone and emergency services are brought to remote areas of the country. The fact that some mobile devices don’t currently have assisted-GPS capabilities in them will also pose a significant challenge, he added.

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