Mark Goldberg

Fox Group Dispatch

Emergency calling: the next generation

Last month, in Telecom Notice of Consultation CRTC 2018-105, the CRTC noted, “effective access to emergency services in Canada is critical to the health and safety of Canadians, and is an important part of ensuring that Canadians have access to a world-class communication system.”

Let’s pause for a brief history of emergency services and the communications industry.

Winnipeg was the first city in North America to have a central emergency access phone number. Back in 1959, Winnipeg used 9‑9‑9 for emergency access, a dialing code created in the UK in 1937 and still used by many countries. It turned out that 9‑1‑1 was chosen for North American implementation in the mid-1960’s and most areas of Canada saw emergency access service rolled out over the next 30 years.

Emergency services have slowly evolved as mobile networks began to generate a larger proportion of emergency calls. Enhanced 9‑1‑1 enabled mobile service providers to relay location information to the emergency services Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs). Four years ago, the CRTC announced the initial launch of text messaging for 9‑1‑1 services for hearing or speech impaired persons. At the time, I wrote: “Regrettably, I am not convinced this is a service that truly meets the needs of the community it is intended to serve.” The user interface struck me as too complicated. I closed off that post with a question: “Should people need a training course and have to invest in new mobile handsets in order to make emergency calls?”

That blog post attracted more comments than any other in 2014, with a debate about my harsh reaction.

Since then, there have been two parallel development paths for emergency services:

  • Emergency alerting, where notifications are sent from the network to users; and,
  • Next Generation 9‑1‑1, the evolution of how users can reach emergency services.

In 2014, the CRTC required AM and FM radio stations and over-the-air TV stations to participate in a National Public Alerting System (NPAS). Earlier this month, all wireless service providers were required to participate in the NPAS and distribute emergency alerts on their LTE networks.

Now, telecommunications service providers are modernizing 9‑1‑1.

The advanced wireless networks operating in Canada include support of IP-based voice services, such as voice over WiFi (VoWiFi) and voice over LTE (VoLTE). Currently, calls using these technologies must convert 9‑1‑1 calls to legacy public switched telephone networks, losing multimedia capabilities that might otherwise be activated during the course of a communications session.

Moreover, legacy 9‑1‑1 networks can’t communicate with internet of things (IoT) devices, such as car airbag sensors. These legacy 9‑1‑1 systems can’t receive location information from VoWifi or nomadic VoIP calls (such as Skype), using an Internet Access Point, even if the device can use GPS to determine its location, or if the address of the Internet Access Point is known with certainty.

In Canada, the CRTC has mandated the implementation of next-generation 9‑1‑1 (NG9‑1‑1) networks based on the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) i3 architecture standard. This will enable Canadians to access new, enhanced, and innovative 9‑1‑1 services with IP-based capabilities. For example (and as noted by the Commission), Canadians could stream video from an emergency incident, send photos of accident damage or a fleeing suspect, or send personal medical information, including accessibility needs, which could greatly aid emergency responders.

This means that there needs to be a capability to transfer information from the caller, not only to the first emergency call taker, but also transmit this information down the line to first responders that have been dispatched to the scene.

The Commission mandated “an Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier (ILEC) stewardship model under Commission oversight”, such that the ILECs will be responsible for the construction, operation, and maintenance of the network and services that interconnect originating operator and access networks with PSAPs. All ILECs are required to establish their NG9‑1‑1 networks and to be ready to provide NG9‑1‑1 Voice service by 30 June 2020 wherever PSAPs have been established in a particular region. The Commission also directed mobile wireless service providers to provide Real Time Text (RTT) based NG9‑1‑1 Text Messaging by 31 December 2020.

On June 5, The 2018 Canadian Telecom Summit will feature a special panel looking at “The Evolution of Emergency Communications” with experts on wireless public alerting, next generation 9‑1‑1 as well as first responder networks, including the US FirstNet.

  • Will NG9‑1‑1 networks and next generation core services mandated by the Commission meet the expectations of consumers?
  • Does today’s model for funneling all calls in a large region to a central first answer point still make sense in an IP world?
  • Will first responder networks integrate with these central first answer points in a more meaningful way?

Be sure to register now for The 2018 Canadian Telecom Summit, taking place June 4 – 6 in Toronto. Save $250 by registering before May 1.

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