For the directionally-challenged

Bell Mobility is implementing new wireless technology that could help people get out of sticky situations.

In November the company announced it would beef up its location-based wireless services with a new kind of Global Positioning System. Known as Assisted GPS, this technology could make it easier for tow-truck drivers and emergency services personnel to track down people who need help.

AGPS uses cell-site triangulation and global positioning satellites to find a handset. When a user calls Bell Mobility’s roadside assistance – the Mr. Rescue service – AGPS can tell the operator where the person is, even if the stranded motorist isn’t sure of his exact situation.

“We talk about being within tens-of-metres accuracy,” said Brian O’Shaughnessy, Bell Mobility’s vice-president of wireless technology development. The firm says this is the first commercial application for AGPS in North America.

The company also plans to apply AGPS to emergency services, to create an enhanced 9-1-1 (e9-1-1) platform.

E9-1-1 comes in two phases. Phase I brings caller-ID to emergency contact centres, known as public service access points (PSATs), so operators at least know the caller’s mobile number, and can dial back if the call is dropped.

O’Shaughnessy said technical difficulties made it tough to provide caller-ID in the PSATs in the past, particularly for wireless calls. Phase I also employs cell-site triangulation to give PSAT operators a general idea of where the caller is, in the neighbourhood of 100 to 200 metres.

Bell Mobility will implement phase I across its network throughout 2004.

AGPS comes into the picture during phase II. As it provides specific location co-ordinates, operators would know where to send ambulances without asking the caller for an address.

“We’ve been working with the Toronto police and all the general Toronto 9-1-1 centres to do a trial next year,” O’Shaughnessy said. “Rollout will probably be 2005.”

He said Bell Mobility kept privacy in mind when developing the new system.

“The way it works with Mr. Rescue, the only way that the operator can ping and find out where you are is if you give permission.” Only if the caller agrees to be found does the operator start the search procedure.

O’Shaughnessy said permission wouldn’t be needed for e9-1-1 calls. Although e9-1-1 is government-mandated in the United States, it’s no such thing in this country, O’Shaughnessy said.

“We and others went to the government and said, ‘You could spend the next six months to a year trying to agree on what the process should look like, what technology we should deploy, and what the rules are. Or, we’re deploying location-based functionality anyway. Don’t mandate it. We’ll work directly with the e9-1-1 guys and make sure it happens.’ That’s why we’re ready now.”

The technology was two years in the making and relies on wares from a number of vendors.

“HP (Hewlett-Packard) is the main platform provider,” O’Shaughnessy said. “Openwave provided the main location application. We also worked with SnapTrack out of California, who are working on a GPS triangulation piece. And all our handset manufacturers have to put GPS on their phones.” AGPS for Mr. Rescue costs $4 per month. For more information visit Search for “roadside assistance.”

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