MED 111 study suggests mandatory GPS for mobile phones

UPDATED:  A Ministry of Economic Development discussion paper also suggests mandatory location and power services for VoIP (internet calliing) devices.

UPDATED:  The Ministry of Economic Development has released a discussion paper that suggests mandatory location and power services for VoIP (voice over internet protocol) devices.

The paper also raised the ideas of mandatory GPS technologies in new mobile phones, new SMS emergency and broadcast text services and the introduction of penalty interconnection charges for telco service providers for non-genuine emergency calls.

The review was announced by the Minister for Communications and Information Technology in December last year and the discussion paper looks at various strengths, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities of the 111 service.

Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand chief executive Paul Brislen said there were a lot of issues coming up which would impact on the ability to service 111.

“So it’s important that they get them all out in the open and sort it out before it becomes a problem.”

Location location location
The paper said it was important for emergency service providers to have back up location information about callers in case the caller was unable to speak.  This information was automatically available for landlines but not for mobile customers or for fixed broadband lines, through which VOIP calls were routed.

The paper suggested two technologies to provide caller location information; cell site triangulation and GPS.

The paper said while less expensive than GPS and able to locate cell phone calls within buildings, cell site triangulation was not as accurate as GPS and was generally ineffective outside main centres, due to lower cell tower density.

The United States was making GPS technologies mandatory in new mobile phones, the paper said.

“This raises the issue of whether such devices should be mandatory here.”

GPS expensive
The paper said considerations included the fact that GPS technologies did not work well inside buildings and that the cost of installing chips and using the technology was expensive.

Mr Brislen said there were a lot of concerns about whether or not slippage into surveillance occurred, such as government monitoring of phone calls and tracking of user movement.

“So long as they manage that, then I think it’s probably a good idea, particularly in terms of the next 10 years when most people will end up using mobile phones for voice calls over a land line.”

He said it would be good to be able to have an emergency call centre locate a mobile user in an emergency and that the discussion paper would be good to have a debate about such issues.

“There are benefits to both sides of this – there’s absolutely advantages to having GPS capabilities.  Of course not all phones will have that, even with the price of GPS coming down dramatically, you’ll still get people on very old phones.”

The discussion paper also said an emerging issue would be whether VOIP service providers should be required to configure their networks to provide location information for VOIP devices.  The paper said the volume of emergency calls from VOIP handsets, while currently a small proportion of total emergency calls, was increasing.  VOIP devices were nomadic, and the linking of telephone numbers and IP addresses presented considerable complexity in the provision of location information.

“Thus caller location information with VOIP is generally unknown or unreliable.”

Mr Brislen said this was more difficult as international VOIP providers could be used.  It was a concern to the government that someone who needed help in a hurry may not necessarily be able to get it if they were using a VOIP service, he said.

“I don’t think it’s a cheap solution to be able to include VOIP capability because a lot of these services are delivered by international players who will not make changes for the New Zealand market.

He said source location of VOIP calls could be mandated but could prove more difficult in practice than it appeared on paper, for instance using VOIP over mobile devices would be difficult to identify and pinpoint customers.

False calls were a major issue, with about 50% of 111 calls handled by initial call answering point operators were false, generally made up of children playing with phones and misdials.

There were a number of options to address this, the paper said, including a public awareness campaigns, changing the 111 number to one less likely to be dialled inadvertently and the introduction of penalty interconnection charges for telecommunication service providers for non-genuine calls.

The MED said the option of a penalty was targeted at non-genuine callers, and the ministry would be interested in feedback from the industry to hear about how this option could be applied in practice so that the fee was collected efficiently.

Text ‘Help’ to 111
The paper said the development of new technologies had allowed new services such as SMS texting for emergencies and broadcast warnings.

The paper said the use of texting in accessing emergency services was problematic, since it used “store and forward” technology which could result in delays, and the fact that emergency personnel needed to speak with people to ascertain the nature and location of the emergency.

The ability to text 111 was currently restricted to registered deaf and hearing impaired people, it said, and an issue to be considered was whether the current service for the deaf community should be made available to other people.

A broadcast text or voice mail message service could be useful to alert people to an emergency event such as a tsunami, the paper said.  The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management was investigating the set up of such a system, the paper said, and implementation depended on funding availability.

Power me up, Scotty
VoIP phones could not be powered as traditional calls made via a copper fixed line were ie through a telephone exchange, and thus the increased use of VoIP phones without power back up to protect against mains failure meant an increased proportion of telephone calling was vulnerable to mains electricity failure.

“The current TCF Code for house wiring refers to uninterrupted power supply equipment as discretionary.  Consideration needs to be given to whether such equipment should be made available by all telecommunications service providers supplying telephone service.”

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