FCC Mandate Requires New Positioning
Posted: 10.01.05 - By Adam Brickman

Conditions of the FCC’s E9-1-1 program require wireless carriers to be able to provide the phone number and location of any emergency call made from a mobile device. In light of the looming December 31 deadline, focus on these requirements has been renewed and the onus to meet these demands has been passed to VoIP carriers as well. Many options exist for how carriers can comply with the regulations, and a newly announced partnership between Telecommunication Systems (TCS), a provider of location and wireless data technology, and Skyhook Wireless, creator of a Wi-Fi–based metro positioning system, puts one more on the map.

Skyhook Wireless’ Wi-Fi–based positioning system (WPS) uses a reference database of more than 1.5 million private and public Wi-Fi access points, along with their locations. WPS then uses this reference database to calculate a device’s location to within 20 to 40 meters. WPS already blankets 25 to 30 of the nation’s biggest cities, and Ted Morgan, founder and CEO of Skyhook, says his goal is 100.

Urban areas present a serious problem for satellite systems; indoor coverage is nearly impossible, and even outside between tall buildings (or “urban canyons”) proves to be very difficult for GPS technology.

“We’re taking advantage of the fact that there have been 20 to 30 million access points purchased in the past few years,” says Morgan. “There are so many signals in metropolitan areas that they have overlapped in large numbers.”

Taking advantage of TCS’ E9-1-1 routing capabilities, the new joint offering promises to enable VoIP service providers and carriers to comply with FCC regulations. In the past, VoIP carriers had largely been allowed to slip under the radar of FCC requirements. However, with the appointment of new FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, VoIP carriers have had to scramble to meet the same requirements that had previously been enforced primarily for cellular carriers.

According to the FCC requirements, carriers must be able to locate a caller across a state to within 50 meters 50 percent of the time, and must be able to identify a call within 150 meters 90 percent of the time. “GPS and cell tower systems won’t be able to comply, especially in crowded metro areas or within downtown buildings,” Morgan believes. “A lot of them will end up just paying the fines instead of reaching compliance levels.”

Which is why TCS will use Skyhook’s location technology to further strengthen and expand its positioning network. “With the addition of Skyhook’s innovative location technology, our customers are better enabled to meet FCC mandates,” says Drew Morin, CTO for TCS. “We believe the combined efforts of TCS and Skyhook Wireless will not only address the needs of the emerging VoIP market, but will also find new location content opportunities for the location-based services market.” TCS is currently responsible for approximately half of all wireless E9-1-1 calls.

Intel has also announced that it is looking into wireless network alternatives to GPS. Although instead of emergency services, it has been considering value-added options like parents being able to locate their children, or travelers finding local information about hotels and restaurants. Besides technological hurdles, privacy concerns are a major issue with many location-based services.


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