BT, EE and HTC have developed a new system for 999 calls made from mobile phones that could save hundreds of lives each year by pinpointing the caller's location with 4,000 times greater accuracy.
BT’s emergency service call centres handle 22 million 999 calls from mobiles every year, 60 percent of the total received. However, identifying the location of these calls is difficult and time-consuming, which puts lives at risk.
BT said that calls from mobiles take, on average, 30 seconds longer to process because the caller has to be asked for specific information on their location, which can be difficult to give during times of distress or injury.
It can also waste as much as 30 minutes for the emergency crews who have to find the location of the caller based on the description from the dispatcher, who is using the information gleaned from the caller.
To improve this BT, HTC and EE have developed a new geographical location system called Advanced Mobile Location (AML).
This can identify the location of a mobile phone call to within a 30-metre radius, the equivalent of half a football pitch. The image below shows the improvement.
It works by automatically sending a text to the 999 text service that provides location information.
This text is not visible on the handset and no charge is made. On average it takes 18 seconds for this message to be sent once a 999 call is made.
The service currently works only on selected HTC phones - the HTC One mini 2, HTC One (M8), HTC Desire 610, HTC One and HTC One mini - on the EE network.
However, the companies have been working with other operators and manufacturers so that the technology can be added free of charge to other handsets in the near future.
O2 told V3 that it also now provides the service to HTC customers, and will shortly do the same for Sony and Doro. V3 contacted Three, Vodafone, Samsung, Apple, Microsoft and Google for an update on their work on this technology.
John Medland, BT’s 999 policy manager, told V3 that, while mobile phones with location capabilities have been around for several years, it has only been in the past couple of years that it has become a viable source of data for 999 calls.
“The time to get a location fix is now much quicker so it has become a practical proposition to look at this,” he said.
Medland added that the number of smartphones now in use by the public also makes the development of the system more important.
BT started working with HTC and EE in the summer of 2013, and development and testing of the system took place soon after. The focus was on making the system as simple as possible, so that the person making the call does not have to do anything.
“The caller does not want to have to think about anything other than calling 999. So the text will send in the background within a 20-second window with the location information gathered from GPS or WiFi,” he said.
“This is then sent to the controller who makes it available to the relevant emergency service. The system will also perform a ‘sanity check’ of the phone data with the wider network to ensure the data matches up.”
The location data is deleted within 30 minutes from the server on which it is stored, the same as landline data.
Other European countries have the same difficulty finding an emergency caller's location and have expressed interest in the AML system.
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