Sunday, March 18, 2012

Report Shows Wireless 911 Calls Lack Accurate GPS

Cell phones, like this iPhone 4s, don't always provide accurate GPS info inside---or out.

Cell phones, like this iPhone 4s, don’t always provide accurate GPS info inside—or out.

We have written about how dedicated GPS units are more reliable than A-GPS from your phone in debates about navigation, geocaching and other topics. But when it comes to security and emergency response, it turns out cell phones fall short yet again.

A report from the Washington Post shows that 9 out of 10 cell phone calls in to 911 responders in D.C. didn’t report accurate location to emergency teams. The A-GPS found in most cell phones requires both a satellite lock and a cell phone signal, and it generally doesn’t work indoors. The result is a coarse location based on the nearest cell phone tower. Generally, this type of information is only accurate within several hundred meters of the actual location, which leaves emergency responders searching an area about the size of three or four city blocks to find someone.

This report has raised plenty of alarms and the FCC and other agencies are scrambling to find an alternative method of tracking locations of cell phones. Find Me 911 has reported that the FCC is requiring cellular phone companies to provide accurate location information within two years to their customers.

Accuracy of position did vary from carrier to carrier, with Verizon was at the top, with 24.6% of wireless calls providing precise location, while AT&T had the worst rate at only 2.6%. The National Center for Health Statistics has reported that 41% of U.S. households depend solely on wireless voice services and do not have a landline. As this trend continues, I expect we will be seeing some big changes from wireless companies and perhaps some advancements in GPS.

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