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FCC wants all cellphones to be GPS-capable by 2018 for improved 911 service (updated)

Donald Melanson, @donmelanson
October 5, 2011
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There's still no real indication of when you'll be able to send text messages, photos and videos to 911, but the FCC has now set a date for another promised enhancement to the service. The agency is aiming to increase the service's location accuracy requirements, and to that end it wants all cellphones and VoIP devices to be GPS-capable by 2018 (A-GPS, specifically). As the FCC notes, it expects 85 percent of all cellphones to have built-in GPS by that point anyway, which it says should "contribute to minimizing subsequent costs" required to meet the cut-off -- it's not, however, adopting a specific sunset date just yet. As you might expect, however, there's not exactly unanimous support for the move in the industry, and the FCC itself notes in its recently-published document that AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Motorola and the CTIA all insist that "a unitary standard is not technically or economically feasible at this time."

Update (October 11th): An FCC spokesperson has gotten in touch with us to clarify this situation a bit. Phones won't specifically be required to have GPS, but they will eventually be required to meet the more stringent location accuracy standards previously laid out by the agency either through a handset-based solution or a network-based solution (or a combination of both). The date for that requirement is yet to be determined, but it won't be before 2019. Its statement is as follows:

The FCC is not requiring that all mobiles be equipped with GPS in 2018 for purposes of providing E911. Rather, not before 2019, on a date still to be determined, carriers will have to meet the more stringent location accuracy standards that now apply to those carriers using a handset solution for E911, and they may choose which solution to use: handset-based (meaning a GPS-type chip in the phone), network-based (meaning through network software and equipment), or a hybrid (which is how the technology seems to be evolving).



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