A new service developed by BT, EE and HTC can pinpoint the source of 999 calls from mobile phones 4,000 times more accurately than the current system - to a radius of 30 metres or less - crucially cutting the handling time for the emergency services.
About 60% of 999 and 112 calls in the UK are now made from a mobile - 22 million calls a year or 60,000 a day - all of which are handled by BT call centres. Currently, emergency services are only able to identify approximate locations of callers to within a few square kilometres. As a result:
• 999 calls from a mobile take 30 seconds longer to handle on average than calls from landlines; it can take three minutes of extra questioning of often stressed or injured victims to determine the location.
• In an estimated 36,000 critical incidents reported by mobile every year, the emergency services spend 30 minutes or more searching for the location.
• In around 330,000 emergency calls a year, the caller is unable to speak to the operator – having only imprecise cell information for the location when the call is from a mobile can prevent the emergency services from responding.
The new geographical location system, called AML (Advanced Mobile Location) provides 999 operators with pinpoint location data to save time and lives. It can identify the source of a mobile phone emergency call to within 0.003 square kilometres, less than half the size of a football pitch, instead of several square kilometres.
When an emergency call is made with an AML enabled smartphone, the phone automatically activates its location service and sends its position by text message to the 999 service - on average within 18 seconds. This text message is not visible on the handset and is not charged for.
The text is automatically matched to the voice call and compared to the network’s cell-based information to ensure it is valid. The location is then sent to the appropriate emergency service, supplementing the cell-based information.
Developed by BT, EE and HTC working closely over the last 12 months, AML is currently available for emergency calls made on the EE network on all new HTC phones, including HTC One mini 2, HTC One (M8), HTC Desire 610, HTC One and HTC One mini.
The three companies have been working together with the other UK mobile networks so that the same approach can be used by all networks and manufacturers free of charge. It is expected that it will be available on HTC handsets on other networks shortly and a number of other handset manufacturers have started to develop it for models to be introduced in the near future.
John Medland, BT’s 999 policy manager, said: “This is a major breakthrough and will undoubtedly help save lives. It is obviously vital for the emergency services to get fast, accurate information so they can pinpoint where an incident is and provide help as quickly as possible.
“AML will help to cut response times, particularly for calls where there is only minimal location information. We’re really looking forward to the other mobile networks and manufacturers making this available too, and are working with all UK mobile networks to help this happen.”
Sue Lampard, president of British Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (BAPCO), said: “I’m delighted to see this development. The 999 service has remained voice-centric since 1937 – whilst multimedia technology has developed around it.
“In the 21st century it is hard to believe that the UK emergency services are unable to receive good location data – they are reliant on the caller to tell them. Invariably during a 999 call, the caller will be distressed, so trying to pinpoint their location adds unnecessary time before resources can be deployed.
“This is the first of a number of steps that need to be taken to bring our 999 technology up to date with society. Well done to BT, EE and HTC for working so hard to achieve this – lives will be saved as a result,” said Lampard.
Richard Webber, director of communications for the College of Paramedics, said: “We welcome this initiative as it will help save lives across the UK. There have been many cases where there has been a delay in locating where someone is calling from during an emergency so this is good news.
“Some callers are not always familiar with their surroundings and this will speed up conversations and help ensure we can get an ambulance or rapid response vehicle to where it's needed as soon as possible. We also urge other networks and handset providers to follow the lead provided by BT, EE, and HTC in order to save more lives.”
There is also interest in AML from other countries in Europe, where there is the same challenge to find mobile emergency callers more quickly.
See also: Progress at last on NextGen 999