FIXED: Cellular E911 Location

The two biggest issues with cellular emergency services:
Text to 911 and Cellular Location Accuracy

But the question is, how can this be so in today’s ultra-modern broadband connected world?

The answer, it turns out, is simple. The Emergency services network no matter where you are located is, for the most part, an analog-based legacy infrastructure with only the ability to convey VOICE calls and no data services. Because of this simple fact, we have pigeonholed ourselves into a quagmire of isolation from the modern communications capabilities that have become commonplace and inherent in the devices nearly all of us seem to be carrying.

How do we extract ourselves from this destitute pit of captivity? The answer is quite simple. We need a rope, and it just so happens that Google has decided to provide that lifeline, with of course a brand-new acronym; AML for Advanced Mobile Location.

Currently, on the network side AML is  only deployed in Estonia and in the United Kingdon however, the functionality (which has been code-named ‘Thunderbird’) is actually embedded in every current  Android device with operating systems from Gingerbread forward. To discuss the history of Thunderbird, and how it came to be, I sat down for a Podcast with European Emergency Number Association Executive Director, and colleague of many years, Gary Machado.

Listen to the Podcast here:


Fletch:
The big story in the news is location and emergencies in cellular phones, and you guys have really come up with something that’s pretty interesting over in Europe. Tell us about AML?


Gary:
Thank you, Fletch. Yes, we came up with AML, which stands for Advanced Mobile Location, a few years ago. Actually, the idea is not ours. The Advanced Mobile Location was created in the UK in 2014 by a guy named John Medland, who works for BT 999/112 emergency services.

He basically lost faith in the EU’s ability to regulate of the sector and to contribute to the improvement of caller location in Europe, so he decided to start talking with the handset manufacturers and the mobile operators here in Europe, what in the US you call I think carriers, and he came up with a simple idea: how can we find an easy way to retrieve the location data that is in the phone that we all use everyday to order pizza, to order Uber, et cetera, and how can we take this data and deliver it to the PSAPs as easily as possible?

That’s how the project started. John led the whole project in the UK. It started slowly in 2014 with AGC, the handset manufacturer, and one mobile operator named EE, and since then, AML has been very successful. We have about 85% of locations that are below 50 meters, within 50 meters, and AML has been extended to other handset manufacturers, namely Alcatel, Sony Mobile, Samsung devices, and extended also to other mobile operators in the UK.


Fletch:
I think the big thing was when Google jumped onboard. Google saw what John had proposed doing, and basically in a nutshell, the way I explain it to people is, when the carrier, when the mobile operator looks from the network towards the handset, it’s one view, but when the handset looks out towards the world, they can see much more. It’s like looking through a peephole on a hotel room door the wrong way, right?

From the carrier side, you get a very myopic view of where that device is, but the device can take advantage of cellular, it can take advantage of GPS, it can take advantage of WiFi signals that [can be seen], not necessarily connected to, but just seen, and then all of that information together [delivers] a much more accurate resolution. One number that I saw published was 4,000 times more accurate?


Gary:
Yes. Fletch, I want to say I love the way you describe it, which is exactly correct. What happens, we actually happened to meet Google at the right time, were starting to look into the project, they were wondering on how to get this information delivered to the PSAPs, and so we actually bridged between BT in the UK, Google and ourselves and we started to have about a conference call per week, basically, and we started to progress, let’s say, the Google way, which is very fast. Yes, as you said, Google wanted to benefit from the use of their Google fused location provider and have this accurate location information we use everyday installed on all Android devices in the world. That was what they were trying to achieve. Since they saw the success of the project in the UK, which was running on Android devices already, on Android-based smartphone manufacturers, they decided to work with us and

Since they saw the success of the project in the UK, which was running on Android devices already, on Android-based smartphone manufacturers, they decided to work with us and BT to, let’s say, upgrade all the devices in the world with this accurate location. Now, where are we right now? All Android devices in the world back to Gingerbread have been upgraded with Advanced Mobile Location, so it’s in every Android phone in the world, besides a few phones that haven’t been updated because they haven’t been charged or connected to the WiFi and didn’t get the update, of course, but otherwise it’s already

Now, where are we right now? All Android devices in the world back to Gingerbread have been upgraded with Advanced Mobile Location, so it’s in every Android phone in the world, besides a few phones that haven’t been updated because they haven’t been charged or connected to the WiFi and didn’t get the update, of course, but otherwise it’s already in your phone. If you have an Android phone, AML is there. You just have to check your phone, look for the Google Play Services, and if you have a version of Google Play Services which is something like 9.0+, then you have AML in your phone. AML

You just have to check your phone, look for the Google Play Services, and if you have a version of Google Play Services which is something like 9.0+, then you have AML in your phone. AML is deployed in two countries in Europe. It is fully deployed in the UK and Estonia.

That means that everyday, UK and Estonian emergency services receive extremely accurate location information, again, 85% at below 50 meters using GPS or WiFi location, and yes, when we look at the figure, it’s about 3,000 to 4,000 times more accurate than what we get in Europe currently, which is only the primarily cell ID.


Fletch:
Before everyone runs out and turns on AML and expects this incredible accuracy to be there, there is the other side of this, and that’s the 911 center, the emergency center, the PSAP has to be able to, or the network I should say, has to be able to receive this data. One of the pieces of AML is a destination for this information to be sent, so that’s got to be in place, too. Now that’s the carrier responsibility.


Gary:
Yes. I would say the beauty of this project is its simplicity. When you dial an emergency number, 112, 911, it will trigger AML in your phone if you’re in a country where the service has been activated; in other words, where PSAPs are able to receive the information. Once you dial this number, it triggers the AML for 20 seconds, collects the location information and sends it over to the PSAPs over a mobile network.

Now there are two ways of doing that. The first way is using SMS. There are two kinds of SMSs that are used. I will not get into the specificity of those, but these two SMSs are working. One of these two can be implemented in any country. Either the message can be sent to an SMS endpoint, which is what both BT, our organization, EENA, and Google recommends, because it works in most cases, SMS, and it’s actually extremely reliable. So it can be sent to an SMS endpoint or it can be sent over HTTPS to the emergency services. Emergency services are free to choose.

In Europe, we work at the country level. [Governments] are free to choose whether they want SMS or if they want HTTPS. For now, in Europe, we have SMS installations, but other countries are deploying an HTTPS endpoint to be able to receive the AML data.


Fletch:
I’m going to assume that when you bring your handset online and you get your configuration from the carrier that this AML destination would be part of that provisioning.


Gary:
Yes. Actually, it’s managed by Google. Google defines the emergency numbers that should activate the service in a country. If a country has several emergency numbers, those numbers will trigger the AML service, which will turn on for 20 seconds and collect the location data, and then send it over to this endpoint selected by a country or a region or a county. Basically, what’s to be done by the PSAPs, the authorities and/or the mobile operator or carrier in the US, it’s very simple. Google needs to know the endpoint to be able to deliver that message. They need to be provided by an endpoint. The carrier needs to, for instance, in case of an SMS, allow it to be free of charge, and that’s what we have in most countries in Europe already with SMS for the deaf and hard of hearing, and/or they need to provide for an HTTPS endpoint to be set up, which often in the US I believe has been at the carriers rather than in the PSAPs. In Europe, we have a different setup for these things.


Fletch:
The very first thing people are going to complain about it is, “Hey, wait a second, Gary, if this thing gets turned on, Google’s going to start tracking my location. It’s bad enough that they know every website I go to and they’re putting cookies all over my phone, now they’re going to be tracking my specific locations and what I’m doing. I’ve already got the NSA in the US doing that. I don’t need Google on top of that doing the same thing.” Is there going to be pushback?


Gary:
As you can guess, we get it over here in Europe even more than in North America. People are very, very concerned about it here. I can say I have myself a certain interest for these issues. I actually help some of the privacy activist organizations here in Brussels on my private time, let’s say, and I never switch on my location on my own, for instance, but in case of emergency service, I want to have my location turned on. The beauty of this project and working with Google for more than a year, they have been extremely cautious with that. The location just turns on for the time of triggering the AML and turns off after 20 seconds. Google does not store that location. Google doesn’t want to see that location. That location is retrieved and is sent over to the PSAPs in an SMS or HTTPS, and that’s it. Google doesn’t want to see that location. I think, honestly, no one is [inaudible 00:11:05]. Google has plenty of locations everyday. I don’t think they are looking for more of that project. That’s not what they are looking for.

The location just turns on for the time of triggering the AML and turns off after 20 seconds. Google does not store that location. Google doesn’t want to see that location. That location is retrieved and is sent over to the PSAPs in an SMS or HTTPS, and that’s it. Google doesn’t want to see that location. I think, honestly, no one is [inaudible 00:11:05]. Google has plenty of locations everyday. I don’t think they are looking for more of that project. That’s not what they are looking for.


Fletch:
So they never even get the data to be able to store it. It goes directly into the public safety networks.


Gary:
Exactly.


Fletch:
Let’s face it, if you’re having an emergency, your location is something that you probably want to share. 


Gary:
Yes, exactly. That’s the case, and I’m sure it’s the same in the US, but in Europe, we have the proper legislation for that, that in case of emergency call, caller location is authorized. Yes, that’s one of the very few times where you actually need and you want your location to be used.


Fletch:
I’ve got to tell you, when I first saw this back in 2014 over in Europe, I was a little hesitant. I was a little hesitant because it was operating system-specific. At that time it was carrier-specific and even handset-specific, and [I thought], interesting idea, but it’s going to be the adoption that really makes this happen, and although it’s taken a couple of years, it is actually a great idea. It’s very simple in its form, it’s very basic. It doesn’t require a big uplift in the network. It doesn’t require huge upgrades in the PSAPs. It’s just a simple activation of information that’s already there, and it’s information that most devices already have anyway. Again, like you said before, if I want to order a pizza or if I want to order an Uber, they know exactly where I am with incredible accuracy, so it’s just activating that function that’s already there and creating the mechanism to transport that over to the PSAP, the people that actually need to use that. Really kind of a brilliant idea and John, John’s a great guy and I’ve known John for many years over at BT. It really took a lot of stamina just to keep pounding his foot down and saying, “This will work,” and getting Google in there is a big deal. Obviously the big question, what about iOS and Apple and Microsoft? What’s happening with those guys? Have they mentioned anything about this?

It’s very simple in its form, it’s very basic. It doesn’t require a big uplift in the network. It doesn’t require huge upgrades in the PSAPs. It’s just a simple activation of information that’s already there, and it’s information that most devices already have anyway. Again, like you said before, if I want to order a pizza or if I want to order an Uber, they know exactly where I am with incredible accuracy, so it’s just activating that function that’s already there and creating the mechanism to transport that over to the PSAP, the people that actually need to use that. Really kind of a brilliant idea and John, John’s a great guy and I’ve known John for many years over at BT. It really took a lot of stamina just to keep pounding his foot down and saying, “This will work,” and getting Google in there is a big deal. Obviously the big question, what about iOS and Apple and Microsoft? What’s happening with those guys? Have they mentioned anything about this?

Really kind of a brilliant idea and John is a great guy.  I’ve known him for many years over at BT. It really took a lot of pounding his foot down and saying, “This will work,” and getting Google in there is a big deal. Obviously the big question, what about iOS and Apple and Microsoft? What’s happening with those guys? Have they mentioned anything about this?


Gary:
First, I want to join you here in saying I really admire what John has done. He’s taken this idea, he’s been fighting for it. He’s been going step by step. He’s very cautious. He wanted to validate every step of the project. We owe John a lot, as all in the public safety community, I believe. I also want to thank the guys at Google, of course, and also congrats to the Estonians. The Estonians implemented AML in less than six months with Google and they are one of the countries that are fully enabled right now. About Apple and Microsoft, we are in contact with Microsoft, trying to get some information, some progress on this. At this stage, we do not see a lot, but we are hopeful that it will progress. We are also trying to get in touch with Apple. We’ve informed Apple via many emails, conference calls and so on. We haven’t seen a lot back from Apple, though we actually discovered just by Googling one day that Apple has published a patent on the location topic, which seems to be rather an idea pretty similar to what we’ve just talked about during this podcast. Very interesting. Very interesting. We’re hopeful that Apple will join the project. We also started to see the first articles, one article in Estonia last week, clearly explain that they believe that Apple will start joining the

We haven’t seen a lot back from Apple, though we actually discovered just by Googling one day that Apple has published a patent on the location topic, which seems to be rather an idea pretty similar to what we’ve just talked about during this podcast. Very interesting. Very interesting. We’re hopeful that Apple will join the project. We also started to see the first articles, one article in Estonia last week, clearly explain that they believe that Apple will start joining the project, because people will think of Google’s Android phone as the safe phones. That was an opinion written in an Estonian article, which is in English.


Fletch:
I have to agree with that. If somebody’s going to make a telephone purchase and this one has got safety features that this one does not, that’s going to become a decision. If I’m going to buy a phone for my daughter who’s going off to college now, I’m going to make sure she’s got a phone that’s going to provide her with as much safety as possible. That’s going to bring the financial model into play and it’s not going to be long before somebody over in Cupertino says, “Hey, wait a second, sales are going down. We need to turn this on,” and Microsoft’s going to do the same.


Gary:
Let’s hope so. Apple Keynote is coming out soon, so, let’s wait.


Fletch:
Listen, Gary, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you. It’s been a while since we’ve chatted. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this. Tremendous progress on this. Congratulations to everybody over at EENA who drove this, and of course to John Medland over at BT, who had the brainchild and the fortitude to get this program moving.


Gary:
Thanks, Fletch. Bye-bye.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s