US-based firm True Position has developed an emergency call location solution. Its True Position Location Platform (TPLP) is a terrestrial network-based location technology. It uses very sensitive receivers sited on mobile base stations to locate the mobile phone used by someone calling the emergency services.
Location finding of 999 or 112 calls in the UK and the rest of Europe has yet to become mandatory, although the EU is working towards making it law.
However, the Federal Communications Commission in the USA has already made it mandatory and the technology is proving advantageous not only for locating 911 calls, but for indentifying and tracking mobile phones and devices for reasons of national security.
A technology known as uplink time difference of arrival (U-TDOA) is employed to measure the time it takes for the phone signal to reach a number of base stations and uses that information to calculate the location of the caller’s phone to within 50m.
True Position has won contracts with T-Mobile and AT&T in the US and now has 75,000 location measurement stations handling 60 million 911 calls a year.
Brian Varano, director of marketing atTrue Position’s told Wireless: ‘With our technology, nothing needs to happen to the phone. It does not require any additional hardware or software to be added. It can locate any mobile phone, even if they are non-GPS enabled. Our receivers are so sensitive that the technology works in any environment, even if you are in a lift within a building and haven’t got a signal to make a call, the receiver can find you.’
The receivers, which are the size of a pizza box, are installed on existing mobile phone base stations. The company is bringing out an even smaller product that is faster, has more capacity and is future proofed for LTE and other technologies. Once LTE is on stream, the receivers just need a software upload to be upgraded to work with LTE.
The advantages for the emergency services are many. Typically, people making a 911 or 999 call do not know where they are. By automatically locating callers to within 50m the emergency services can speed up their time to first response.
The solution also allows the emergency services to process more calls, more quickly as time is not wasted trying to establish the caller’s location. It also maximises valuable public safety resources. It is estimated that it can cost up to $10,000 to find a missing person, as it often requires a multi-vehicle response and sometimes expensive helicopters.
But if the emergency service know where the missing person is to within 50m and can therefore get an accurate idea of the terrain, they can tailor the rescue response to the situation much more accurately. Time and money is not wasted by putting too many resources into the search and rescue mission.
Varano says True Position has been talking to the European Emergency Number Association and the relevant EU commissioners. ‘They are looking to add high accuracy location services to existing cell global identity. The current 112 service can only locate the tower cell handling the emergency call at the moment. But the caller might be anywhere within several kilometres of the cell tower’s range. That is not accurate enough for blue light services.’
Europe will probably look to the USA for its model. Varano says Canada, Argentina and Australia all have pending legislation on making emergency call location finding mandatory.
But True Position is also being approached by national security organisations. ‘It’s the same technology, but with a different goal,’ says Verano. ‘We are being approached by interior ministries to look at border security, counter terrorism and critical infrastructure protection.’
True Position’s LOCINT system consists of its Location Intelligence Management System (LIMS) working in conjunction with the TPLP. The LIMS interrogates the data going into the network base stations enabling it to track calls made and received, text messages, Sim cards being switched over and phones being powered up, all in real time.
‘The information is all time located,’ says Varano, ‘so you know who calls who and when, although it cannot capture the actual content of the calls. It’s good for intelligence gathering, as you can track a suspect, see where they go, who they contact, which might enable you to pick up a terrorist cell or criminal network.’
An additional service is geofencing, a virtual electronic fence, which can be used to monitor large stretches of remote border area. People smugglers and illegal traffickers often use mobiles to co-ordinate their activities, so the geofence can locate them if they pass it. The service can help increase border patrol efficiency, reduce illegal traffic and support and enforce immigration policies.
A geofence can also be erected around critical infrastructure, such as nuclear power stations, water treatment plants, national landmarks, hotels or conference centres. The geofence detects any mobile phone entering the virtual perimeter surveillance area. An unknown phone will trigger an alert with the location of the person, so security staff can move in to intercept.
Another use for the technology is personal location finding services for the senior market or for keeping a watch on people with medical problems. People are given a wristwatch with a Sim. If carers cannot locate a patient or elderly relative, the carer can call the service, which then activates the device. The device then sends an alert to the control with a location.
Varano points out that operators can issue the device and charge a monthly subscription fee, thereby giving themselves a new revenue stream. ‘It’s not a network capacity hogging device and it helps to reduce churn as people could be on it for life. They won’t need to switch to another network, because it is offering another smartphone at a more attractive price. Emergency services love it, because there is no device expense for them.’
The company sees a real opportunity for mobile operators here. Varano says: ‘When we went into this market we originally targeted network operators, saying, if you invest in this, you can sell the service on to third parties. Operators can be a bit stand-offish. We have to assure them that our technology won’t bring down their network, spread allergies or clog up their capacity.
‘But if they do invest in it, they can say to governments, we have a high accuracy location service available, you may want to launch a service for your emergency services. It will provide another source of revenue for the network, as they can charge the government for providing the service. But now we are finding that government agencies are approaching us directly,’ says Varano.
Different models are available to the mobile operators. Some charge a hefty monthly fee to government agencies, but in return those agencies get unlimited data access whenever they want it. Others pay a per target per day one off fee.
True Position generally sells its solution directly, but it is investigating other channels. For example, some brand vendors provide wider systems that do involve actual content interception and they want to incorporate True Position’s location finding technology within their offering.
The company is now generating $200m in revenues and has more than 300 employees. It is headquartered in Philadelphia, but has offices in the UK covering the European market, Dubai for the Middle East, Singapore for Asia and Oceania, while the Miami office looks after the Caribbean and Latin America.
The firm’s two main rivals are Andrew Corporation (part of Com