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FCC pushes ahead with z-axis location requirements

The Federal Communications Commission has moved forward with and expanded requirements that mobile network operators provide vertical location information for wireless callers when they call 911, so that first responders can locate their position in multi-story buildings.

The FCC has been working on requirements around so-called “z-axis location”, what level of accuracy will be required, and the timelines for availability. At this month’s meeting, they rejected a request to “weaken” their requirements, as Chairman Ajit Pai put it, and stuck with deadlines of April 2021 and April 2023 for nationwide wireless network operators to provide z-axis information that is within an accuracy range of plus or minus three meters relative to the handset, for 80% of indoor wireless 911 calls. Those deadlines are for the top 25 markets and top 50 markets, respectively. In addition, the FCC added a new requirement that national operations have z-axis technology available in all Cellular Market Areas by April 2025.

Non-nationwide carriers were given an additional year, until April 2026, to make such information available in their service areas.

In January 2022, wireless providers also have to start providing “dispatchable location” information with wireless 911 calls “when it is technically feasible and cost-effective to do so, which will promote consistency in the Commission’s 911 rules across technology platforms.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that the commission’s move “will ensure that consumers and emergency personnel in both rural and urban America—and not just our nation’s larger metropolitan areas—will have the benefit of vertical location accuracy by a date certain.” He said that the new order offers more options for what technology can be used to comply with the rules, including the deployment of z-axis-capable handsets on a nationwide basis. However, Pai also noted that much work remains to be done, and that “wireless carriers, the public safety community, z-axis solution providers, device manufacturers, and others will have to work together in good faith to get the job done—and done on time.”

The decision garnered support from all five of the FCC’s members, although Democrat Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel partly dissented. Rosenworcel praised the order’s national scale rather than focusing on the top 50 markets, but she criticized the opt-in nature of the enablement, and that the FCC only requires the raw vertical location data from the center of the earth’s mass to be provided — not specific floor numbers or measurements from street level that would be more actionable for 911 operators and first responders.

“Every wireless consumer will only get full location information sent with their emergency calls if they perform a specific software update on their device or respond to a notice from their carrier regarding an application that may be available. Let’s be honest, in the best case a whole lot of people are going to miss this one, never download it or respond to the fine print in a service notice,” Rosenworcel said.


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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