NYC tries cell phone finder

National Emergency Number Association

New York City is testing a new system that will be able to triangulate the location of cell phone callers, the next phase of its wireless 911 emergency services.

The rollout, however, depends on ensuring that private cellular communications carriers have implemented certain technologies for pinpointing wireless callers as mandated by the Federal Communications Commission, said Richard Dale, chief executive officer of iXP Corp., based in Lawrenceville, N.J.

The company, which helped developed the city's Enhanced 911 service in 1995, was hired by the police department to be the systems integrator and project manager for the cell phone locator test. It is partnering with RCC Consultants Inc. of Woodbridge, N.J., which is also providing software, consulting and testing services. The contract is worth $700,000, Dale said.

Currently, city dispatchers or call agents can only see a caller's phone number. Dale said when Phase II of the wireless E911 service is fully operational, which could be later this year or early next year, dispatchers will see a wireless caller's phone number, location data associated with that phone, a time stamp and the age of the last positioning report for that phone.

The city presents challenges because of its skyscrapers and underground subways, he said, but he added that advanced technologies, including cell phones equipped with global positioning satellite antennas, are improving the accuracy of a caller's position.

iXP, he said, is providing geographic information systems software that will instantly display a caller's location data on a digital map. But another critical component of the contract is verifying that wireless telephone providers are meeting FCC guidelines.

"So what we'll do is we'll go to a location in testing the system, then we'll make 911 calls from around the city — make it on the Verizon Wireless network, the AT&T network, T-Mobile USA Inc. network, as examples — and we'll make sure the information that we're being provided is proper, and each cellular provider has to certify that each is compliant."

In addition to the three providers mentioned above, iXP will also verify if Sprint, Nextel Communications and Cingular Wireless, which also provide services in the city, are compliant.

New York City receives about 10.3 million 911 emergency calls from landline and wireless phones each year, for an average of about 33,000 calls daily, Dale said. On Aug. 14, the day of the power blackout that blanketed a good deal of New York, and parts of the Midwest and Canada, New York City received 90,000 emergency calls, Dale said.

Advocates for E911 services, including many in Congress, are pushing for more federal investment and assistance to help local communities develop better systems.

In 2000, the National Emergency Number Association said 150 million calls were made to 911, 45 million of them by wireless telephone users. In five years, the association predicts wireless calls to 911 will double to 100 million calls and surpass the number generated by landline users.


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