Indoor Wireless 911 Call Location Accuracy Takes a Step


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Locating where someone is when they call 911 using a wireless phone inside a building has taken a step forward. The FCC has approved a privacy and security plan for the National Emergency Address Database (NEAD) submitted by AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and NEAD, LLC. The database will enable carriers to use the media access control (MAC) address and Bluetooth Public Device Addresses (BT-PDA) information of fixed indoor access points to locate wireless devices being used to call 911.

Carriers have been working on technology to support the provision of dispatchable location information (such as street address, floor level, and office or apartment number) to Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) when indoor wireless customers place 911 calls. The database must be used only for 911 location and the FCC prohibited its use for commercial purposes. 

Wireless association CTIA created the non-profit NEAD which the carriers appointed to oversee development and operation of the database platform. The NEAD plan submitted in February explains when someone calls 911 from a wireless phone equipped with WiFi or Bluetooth, the carrier network automatically collects data from the handset about nearby wireless access points. The network then queries the database to determine whether the MAC address or BT-PDA information is in the database and associated with a street address. If so, the carrier provides the street address plus other in-building information to the PSAP as part of the 911 call.  

The only information wireless carriers will share with the NEAD platform are “the MAC addresses of detected WiFi access points and the BT-PDA information of detected Bluetooth beacons,” according to the proposal.

The plan includes multiple layers of privacy and cybersecurity protection. Multiple entities commented on the plan and no one opposed it, according to the FCC. The National Emergency Number Association, for example, recommended approval.                                     

November 16, 2017               

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