FCC Eyes Short-term Strategies for Next Generation 9-1-1

A Notice of Proposed Rule Making discussed the possibility of next generation 9-1-1 using “short message service” texting.
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The U.S. government is considering a phased strategy for the implementation of Next Generation (NG) 9-1-1 in which short-term solutions that enable some of the technologoies are implemented first, eventually followed by long-term solutions that enable the latest technologies, says a federal official involved with the program.

Patrick Donovan, an official with the Federal Communication’s Commission’s (FCC) Public Sasefty & Homeland Security Bureau, discussed the FCC’s NG 9-1-1 Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM)—Facilitating the Deployment of Text-to-911 and Other Next Generation 911 Applications; Framework for Next Generation 911 Deployment—that was posted on the Federal Register on Sept. 22, 2011. The NPRM is a “major step forward” for the FCC on NG 9-1-1, Donovan told the FCC’s Emergency Access Advisory Committee, which met on Oct. 14.

The NPRM issued in September is a followup to a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) on NG 9-1-1 issued in December 2010, Donovan said. The FCC analyzed the comments it received in response to the NOI, and decided to issue a NPRM that focused on “text to 9-1-1” and other 9-1-1 applications, he said. The reason the commission is focused on text to 9-1-1 is the responses to the NOI “clearly demonstrated there is an urgent need for people to be able to text to 9-1-1, particularly, people with disabilities,” he said.

Therefore, the NPRM begins by reviewing the status of current text to 9-1-1 trials, and the evolution of NG 9-1-1, both in the short term and long term, said Donovan, who added the FCC broke up the NPRM into two sections, a short-term section and long-term section. “True IP-based NG 9-1-1 solutions are a number of years away, but we can’t wait a number of years for text to 9-1-1, so we decided on a section that focuses on the short-term deployment of text to 9-1-1,” he said.

The NPRM discusses the possibility of NG 9-1-1 using“short message service” (SMS) texting, and notes that SMS is not likely to be appropriate as a long-term solution to NG 9-1-1 given its limitations, Donovan said. Among the limitiations of SMS texting include that it does not forward real-time two-way communications or provide precise location information, he said, adding SMS does not support the delivery of other mediums such as photos, video and data.

However, the NPRM makes clear that SMS does have certain advantages, Donovan said. The advantages of SMS texting include that it can be deployed relatively quickly; that consumers have already embraced the technology; and the vast majority of wireless providers and mobile devices already support SMS. So what the commission is looking for is not comments—“or another white paper”—on the limitations of SMS, he said. “What we’re [the FCC] looking for here is a discussion of whether the benefits of leveraging SMS to 9-1-1 on an interim basis outweigh the limitations of SMS to 9-1-1,” he said.

On the deployment of technologies that support NG 9-1-1 over the long term include IP based technologies that are capable of delivering real-time text, photos, video and other data, Donovan said. Comment is sought on the on going activites of standard setting bodies and archecture based on Interent protocol security (IPSEC) practices. For example, the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) has previously mentioned that NENA requirements must be aligned to make NG 9-1-1- available, so the FCC seeks comments on whether an alignment is necessary, and if so, how much time is needed to establishment such an alignment, he said.