Mark Goldberg

Mobile alerting

In March, I expressed my disappointment with the architecture that has been deployed in many communities to accommodate text with 9-1-1 service. I wrote, “Regrettably, I am not convinced this is a service that truly meets the needs of the community it is intended to serve.”

There is a risk that we may see similar issues with the mobile industry delivering a solution for emergency alerting. In early June, the CRTC “congratulated the Canadian wireless industry for having developed specifications to deliver emergency alert messages affecting life and property to Canadians through their cellphones.”

However, the congratulatory note seems to indicate that the solution may not offer alerting capabilities to all mobile users in Canada.

There are two different technologies being used for the dissemination of mobile phone alert messages; Cell Broadcast, and Enhanced SMS. Cell Broadcast is an LTE capability that requires the subscriber to have a handset that is both capable and have the feature turned on.

According to the CRTC’s note, “Mobile devices that support the specification will be able to receive and display emergency alert messages in English and French.” This qualifying statement seems to indicate that the emergency alerting architecture may not be available to all mobile handsets.

On the other hand, Enhanced SMS can reach 100% of handsets on day one, including mobile users from outside Canada. The technology can allow alerts to be as focused as a single base station, and the alerting administrator can know exactly how many handsets are in the target area and how many received the alert. Among other benefits, Enhanced SMS can recognize a foreign visitor’s handset and translate the alert message into their native tongue. It can monitor the alert target area for a predefined amount of time and alert any new arrivals into the target zone without re-alerting the original population.

While cell broadcast may be appealing as part of the newest LTE technology deployment, we need to consider backward compatibility to maximize coverage for the alerts. We need to consider those Canadians who do not yet have access to the latest handsets and ensure that they also will be able to receive emergency alert messages. And, we need to consider a more diverse set of language capabilities to serve visitors to Canada’s multi-cultural mosaic.

[Update: October 28, 2015] The CRTC denied an application by Bruce Power to order Canada’s mobile carriers to immediately implement wireless emergency alerting using available technologies.

However, the Commission recognizes the importance of such a service to help safeguard the lives of Canadians, and therefore announces its intention to launch a full public proceeding into the issue of a wireless public alerting service by the end of the first quarter of 2016.

1 comment to Mobile alerting

  • Mark,
    Very insightful views on mobile alerting.

    Cell Broadcast, while elegant in theory, has never been a practical solution for mobile alerting. The sheer numbers of people who are left out of the alerting pool by utilizing a CB platform are staggering and unfortunately it tends to be the economically disenfranchised who are left behind, (the very sect of the population who need the mobile alert the worst).

    I would invite your readers to visit our website,, and view our SMS based solution that reaches 100% of the handsets in any definable target zone. Our feature rich platform will work on any mobile operators’ network and can be fully operational in 60 days. The CMAS solution doesn’t require the mobile operator to modify their network in anyway, and ours is an end-to-end solution with an easy an intuitive administrative interface.

    Once again, I appreciate your perspective on mobile alerting, Jeff