Cell Phones in the USA

In most areas of North America, citizens have basic or enhanced 9-1-1 service from their landline, or wireline, phones in their homes or workplaces.  Basic 9-1-1 means that when the three-digit number is dialed, a call taker/dispatcher in the local public safety answering point (PSAP), or 9-1-1 center, answers the call.  The emergency and its location are communicated by voice between the caller and the call taker.  In areas serviced by Enhanced 9-1-1, the local 9-1-1 center has equipment and database information that allow the call taker to see the caller’s phone number and address on a display.  This lets them quickly dispatch emergency help, even if the caller is unable to communicate where they are or what the emergency is.

However, when 9-1-1 calls are made from wireless phones, the call may not be routed to the closest 9-1-1 center, and the call taker doesn’t receive the callback phone number or the location of the caller.  This presents life threatening problems due to lost response time, if callers are unable to speak or don’t know where they are, or if they don’t know their wireless phone callback number and the call is dropped.

Three Phases of Wireless 9-1-1

There are 3 phases that are referred to in implementing Wireless 9-1-1.  The most basic of these, sometimes called Wireless Phase 0, simply means that when you dial 9-1-1 from your cell phone a call taker at a public safety answering point (PSAP) answers.  The call taker may be at a state highway patrol PSAP, at a city or county PSAP up to hundreds of miles away, or at a local PSAP, depending on how the wireless 9-1-1 call is routed.

Wireless Phase I is the first step in providing better emergency response service to wireless 9-1-1 callers.  When Phase I has been implemented, a wireless 9-1-1 call will come into the PSAP with the wireless phone call back number.  This is important in the event the cell phone call is dropped, and may even allow PSAP employees to work with the wireless company to identify the wireless subscriber.  However, Phase I still doesn’t help call takers locate emergency victims or callers.

To locate wireless 9-1-1 callers, Phase II must have been implemented in the area by local 9-1-1 systems and wireless carriers.  Phase II allows call takers to receive both the caller’s wireless phone number and their location information.

Wireless 9-1-1 Requirements

Phase 0: Required by basic 911 rules (according to the FCC).  Wireless 9-1-1 calls are to be transmitted to a PSAP regardless of whether being placed by a wireless service subscriber or non-subscriber.

Phase I: April 1, 1998 or within 6 months of being requested by the PSAP, whichever comes later.

Phase II: Originally, October 1, 2001. Specific requirements differ for network-based and handset-based solutions.


Wireless Statistics

In our increasingly wireless society, more and more of the mobile public is dialing 9-1-1 every day.

An estimated 240 million calls are made to 9-1-1 in the U.S. each year. In many areas.

As of February 2021, the United States has 5,748 primary and secondary PSAPs and 3,135 counties, which include parishes, independent cities, boroughs, and Census areas.

·         99.4% of PSAPs have some Phase I

·         99.2% of PSAPs have some Phase II

·         97.8% of Counties have some Phase I

·         97.3% of Counties have some Phase II

·         98.9% of Population have some Phase I

·         98.9% of Population have some Phase II

The term `some’ means that some or all wireless carriers have implemented either Phase I or Phase II service in the County or the PSAPs. In order for any carrier to provide service, the County or PSAP must be capable of receiving the service. In most cases, all carriers are implemented in a County or PSAP, but one or more may be in the process of completing the implementation.

A Critical Public Safety Issue

“[Wireless 9-1-1] is rapidly becoming a critical public safety issue affecting all Americans,” said W. Mark Adams, NENA’s Executive Director, in a June 1999 NENA press release. “In the 16 years since cell phones were introduced, 9-1-1 operators have not been able to automatically receive the location or even the phone number of people calling from a wireless phone.”

The industry set forth to educate itself, our legislators and our public of the critical need for wireless 9-1-1 service. After having been the topic of discussion in 9-1-1 for several years, wireless 9-1-1 service is finally becoming a reality. With a sturdy infrastructure and the technology necessary to support wireless 9-1-1 service, members of each state’s public safety community have worked—or are working—tirelessly to pass the legislation necessary to fund this valuable, necessary, and overdue component to the public safety system.

Now, with legislation, funding, and the technology in hand or on the way, the challenge is being met and our wireless telephone users can be confident that—in the future—help will indeed be on the way when they dial 9-1-1 from a cell phone

Summary of Wireless Issues :

Phase I

The FCC deadline for transmitting ANI and pseudo-ALI to the PSAP has come and gone–it was April, 2000. According to NENA, just 8% of PSAPs now have this feature available to them. Besides transmitting the caller’s wireless phone number to the PSAP, wireless carriers must also send the address/location of the receiving antenna site, to assist in locating the caller.

Now, local comm centers are trying to size up the Phase II possibilities and timeline, and decide if adopting Phase I would be worth the time, trouble and money. In many cases, current 911 equipment is not capable of receiving a 7-digit telephone number and area code — it was never anticipated that a non-local caller would be dialing 911. So many agencies are facing a considerable expense to upgrade their equipment in order to receive Phase I features. Some are even considering whether to skip Phase I and just upgrade their systems to handle Phase II immediately.

T-Mobile was fined by the FCC in April 2003 for not meeting Phase I implementation deadlines–the FCC alleged T-Mobile let PSAP requests languish for longer than the 6-month time limit.

As of Oct. 2003, the federal DOT says 65% of PSAPs have Phase I service.

Phase II

Under the FCC’s rules, wireless carriers must transmit the location of a wireless 911 caller within certain accuracies.

It’s been 923 days since the FCC’s first Phase II deadline.

The FCC granted waiver requests from all major wireless carriers in October, 2001, and now Verizon, Cingular and Nextel have filed Petitions for Reconsideration on the waivers, objecting to some sections of the waiver grants.

There are still lots of PSAP issues, not the least of which is the expense of upgrading 911 equipment to handle Phase II features, and the ability to display the location information — either a latitude and longitude, or a map display.

Now, the FCC reports that Phase has been deployed in approximately 125 regions across the country, to more than 300 PSAPs in 16 states. They have formed a Wireless E911 Initiative to get things rolling faster, NENA has formed a “SWAT Team” to assist agencies with E911 and wireless, and APCO has formed a non-profit foundation to disperse grants for wireless E911 projects. Also, the FCC has formed an E911 Coordination Initiative to help assist states and localities with implementation.

In June 2003, Brian Tramont, legal counsel to FCC chair Michael Powell, said 400 markets and 800 PSAPs have Phase II service, with 60% of the deployments made during the past 3 months.

Strongest Signal

After strong lobbying from a consumer group, the FCC ordered that analog wireless phones must use any available transmission method and carrier to complete a 911 call.

Now, wireless phone manufacturers are marketing compliant phones, although Motorola has been fined for not following the FCC’s rules.

Uninitialized Phones-
Unintentional Calls

When the FCC issued its original rules on wireless 911, they required carriers to accept and pass along 911 calls from any wireless phone, even those who had not been subscribed with a carrier. This was intended to ensure that emergency calls would have a higher probability of being processed and then received at the PSAP.

Since these so-called uninitialized phones have no number, they cannot be called back by a dispatcher. Calls from the phones will also not display a telephone number in Phase I or II implementations.

As well, the FCC didn’t consider that manufacturers would program into the handset a one-button 911 calling feature, which has generated millions of unintentional, accidental calls by persons who don’t use the keypad lock feature, and who place the phone in a purse, bag or back pocket. These calls take a long time to track down and handle.

Now, on-line companies are selling unsubscribed phones and promoting them for personal safety. Non-profit and community groups are collecting wireless phones donated by the public, tweaking them to dial 911 only, and handing them out to victims of domestic violence, taxi drivers, mail carriers, crossing guards, community watch groups and others.

As well, in Sept. 2001 the FCC has asked for more comments on how to handle these phones, both technically and procedurally.