WASHINGTON-The Telecommunications Industry Association rejected the strongest-signal proposal for completing E911 calls, saying it was not technically feasible.

The strongest-signal proposal would require cellular carriers to program cell phones to send 911 calls to the A- or B-side system that offers the best signal, regardless of which carrier has a contract with the cell phone user.

The Federal Communications Commission is considering whether to adopt the proposal.

TIA’s determination lends credence to the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association’s argument that strongest signal is not good for public safety. A consumer-advocacy group, the Alliance for Public Access to 911, argues a strongest- signal mandate is necessary, especially in rural and suburban areas where cellular coverage may not be as great as in urban areas.

In a related matter, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) may continue to advance a strongest-signal proposal at a congressional hearing on CTIA’s legislative initiative to pay for E911 enhancements with antenna-siting fees on federal lands. The hearing is scheduled for tomorrow. A House telecommunications subcommittee consideration is scheduled for June 17.

TIA, a technical standards-setting body, which last week met in Chicago, said a strongest-signal requirement could harm public safety because “clustering” would occur when multiple 911 calls were placed from the same location. CTIA previously argued the same, using the analogy of a car accident on a freeway where many witnesses attempt to reach 911. Under the cluster scenario, calls would back up the system, and someone with a different emergency in the same general area could not get his emergency call through.

As part of their decision, TIA engineers examined a report filed at the FCC by the Trott Communications Group. The Trott report said it has conducted studies that dispute these concerns. The studies “found that in most high-density areas, the signal strength of the two carriers are nearly equal. The study, which measured signal strengths in `core’ areas, showed that in such areas, the strongest signal changes back and forth from one carrier to the other … the strongest carrier is likely to change from car to car along a traffic lane,” the Trott Group’s report said.

In addition to clustering, the TIA engineers said that 911 call completion could be in jeopardy in areas along international borders.

CTIA’s Ed Hall said he was not surprised by the TIA conclusion because he assisted the examination. “I have been attending the meeting and making sure they had all the facts,” he said. Hall is assistant vice president for technical and network operations.

This is in direct contrast to the Ad Hoc Alliance’s participation. “We were never invited to provide any information or told that a decision was pending,” said Jonathan D. Linkous of the alliance.

CTIA also asked TIA to study a new proposal for call completion. The standards-requirement document (SRD) asks TIA to assure the most effective and efficient completion of 911 calls by developing a standard using the following objectives:

Provide the caller with a higher probability of call completion;

A 5-second total call set-up time;

Access to an available, clear voice channel. The alliance proposal for strongest signal had suggested all 911 calls go to the control channel, a separate distinct channel from the voice channel;

Allow the user to clearly communicate with 911 dispatch services. This is important so emergency personnel can correctly find and help accident and disaster victims;

If preferred radio channels are not found, assigned to or maintained by the wireless phone, then attempt alternative access by using other frequency bands and air interface modes available to the wireless phone; and

The standard should be applicable to all air-interface technologies.

CTIA asked that TIA’s analysis of its 911 call completion SRD be finished by the time the standards body meets again in September, said CTIA President Tom Wheeler.

In addition to the SRD, CTIA submitted additional information discrediting the strongest-signal proposal. An Expert Wireless Solutions Inc. study commissioned by CTIA said the “underlying assumption upon which the strongest-signal proposal is constructed is not valid.”

The Expert report also claimed clustering would hurt rather than enhance 911 call completion. However, the report conceded that in light traffic areas, strongest signal could enhance 911 call completion.


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