YOU ARE AT:CarriersNational carriers agree to text-to-911 services by 2014

National carriers agree to text-to-911 services by 2014

The four largest U.S. wireless carriers and two public safety industry groups have committed to a voluntary agreement to provide text-to-911 services to emergency call centers around the country by 2014.

AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless have all agreed to participate in enabling text-to-911 services so that people can reach emergency services by sending an SMS message.

“As the public becomes more mobile and embraces new methods for communicating, 9-1-1 has to be ready to answer non-voice requests for assistance,” said Barbara Jaeger, president of the National Emergency Number Association. “This historic agreement demonstrates the shared commitment of parties to serve the evolving needs of citizens in the digital age.”

According to the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), the agreement paves the way for a national approach that enables the public to reach emergency services by sending text messages to 911.

However, there are built-in limitations to using text messages in emergencies. Wireless carriers have warned the Federal Communications Commission and their partners that “SMS is a store-and-forward messaging technology that was never designed nor deployed to provide any time-sensitive, mission critical service,” according to an APCO report, and that text-to-911 services will be offered on a “best effort” basis until the Federal Communication Commission’s broader Next Generation 911 initiative to update and improve 911 infrastructure is developed and deployed.

The agreement applies only to SMS services provided directly by the four national carriers, not text messaging applications.

Carriers committed to making text-to-911 services available to Public Safety Answering Points, or 911 centers, by May 2014; the centers must then request the services after becoming ready to receive emergency text messages. NENA noted in a statement that “the agreement does not mean that text-to-911 service will be available to all consumers by 2014; that will hinge on the deployment of hardware, software, and training at the more than 6,000 9-1-1 centers across America.”

However, the agreement is supposed to expedite the availability of text-to-911 services with a uniform approach.  Some small-scale trials and deployments are already underway, according to the FCC.

The agreement also provides for carriers to implement an auto-reply message in instances when text-to-911 services are not available, alerting the customer that they must make a voice call to 911. The bounce-back message will be implemented by June 30, 2013 per the agreement.

The FCC said that it will be considering further actions to advance text-to-911 within the next week, as part of its overall goal to improve emergency communications and enable the transition to Next Generation 911. The Commission said it will “consider steps towards ensuring that text-to-911 is made available as soon as possible by all carriers, and over-the-top providers who offer Internet-based text services.”

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that he was “pleased that the nation’s four largest wireless carriers and leading public safety organizations have responded with today’s commitment, which will save lives starting in 2013.”

“This is good progress, but our work is not done.” Genachowski said. He added that the FCC will monitor carriers’ compliance with their text-to-911 agreements and address “other aspects of Next Generation 911 such as enabling transmission of photos and videos to 911 centers. We are also working to strengthen the resiliency and reliability of the existing 911 system.”

The FCC’s next open meeting is Dec. 12. The FirstNet board, which is developing a national public safety LTE network, meets Dec. 11.



Kelly Hill
Kelly Hill
Kelly reports on network test and measurement, as well as the use of big data and analytics. She first covered the wireless industry for RCR Wireless News in 2005, focusing on carriers and mobile virtual network operators, then took a few years’ hiatus and returned to RCR Wireless News to write about heterogeneous networks and network infrastructure. Kelly is an Ohio native with a masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, where she focused on science writing and multimedia. She has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian and The Canton Repository. Follow her on Twitter: @khillrcr

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