Wireless Enhanced 911 enters second phase

The deadline imposed on wireless carriers in Canada to roll out part of the second phase of enhanced 911 is February 1, and Telus Corp. said it complies with last year’s Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ruling on emergency 911 service for cellular phones.


“We’ve tested it with every public safety answering point that’s ready in Canada,” Telus spokesman Shawn Hall said. “There are a handful that aren’t quite ready. It’s a matter of a few weeks to a month before they’re ready.”


A public safety answering point (PSAP) is an office with workers who answer 911 calls and dispatch police, ambulance or firefighters.


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Rogers Communications Inc. and Bell Canada Enterprises Inc. (BCE) referred Network World Canada to the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, a group representing cellular providers.


CWTA spokesman Marc Choma said the second phase of enhanced 911 for wireless is available “everywhere E911 is available for landline service.”


Phase 1 of emergency 911 refers to the ability to give emergency 911 operators the caller’s phone number and the location of the cellular tower handling the call.


Vancouver-based Telus said Phase 2 of enhanced 911 works with “most handsets already in use.” If a user has line of sight to a global positioning system (GPS) satellite, the 911 operator could get the user’s location within 50 metres, Hall said.


“In ideal conditions you can get within 50 metres of someone who has a cell phone with assisted GPS technology, outside in open areas with a clear view to sky with satellites,” he said. “But GPS doesn’t work inside. When you call in on 911 it tries assisted GPS first. It then goes to triangulation, and takes the signal strength of cell towers in the area of the phone.”


Last year the CRTC ordered Canadian wireless carriers to have Phase 2 of E911 in place by Feb. 1.


“The mandate was a carrier has to have the technology deployed and that has been met,” Choma said.


But one telecom analyst noted Phase 2 is itself divided into two stages.


“The deadline for February 1 is really for Stage 1, the easier stuff,” said Lawrence Surtees, vice-president of IDC Canada. “The more advanced features that are really the heart and soul have been put off for an indeterminate amount of time for the industry groups to get together, yet again.”


In his report, Location! Location! The need for Emergency Wireless Enhanced 911 Services and Comparative Policies in Canada, the United States and Europe, Surtees noted the second stage of enhanced includes roaming, so-called rebids and service to unsubscribed handsets.


But the CRTC has not set a deadline for these services. The second stage would mean carriers would have to provide for enhanced 911 service to other carriers’ subscribers roaming on their networks, allowing PSAPs to get updates on callers’ locations during 911 calls and location information for users with pre-paid handsets. None of these services will be mandatory next week.


“It’s misleading to say Phase 2 is flicking the switch on Feb 1,” Surtees said. “It’s better than nothing, but some of the really critical features of Phase 2 that the public safety answering bureaus really want and need are being put off. Canadian public safety experts recognize we’re really late in the game to implement advanced wireless 911.”


Both Choma and Hall noted the testing was complicated.


“It had to be tested with the local phone company, as well as all cell sites,” Choma said. “At last count there were about 7,000 of those.”