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Indoor Public Safety, E911 Location May See Growth

December 13 2016 — 

By Mike Collado

Principal Consultant, Wireless 20/20

mike-colladoChange is often viewed as a catalyst for opportunity. Yet the SWOT planning method, which considers the strategic viability of a business plan or market initiative by assessing the upside (strengths and opportunities) and downside (weaknesses and threats) for both internal and external dynamics, informs that change can also be inauspicious.

Given the observation of the philosopher Heraclitus, “The only thing that is constant is change,” business leaders within the wireless industry have much to consider as they seek to identify the right ventures for their organization in response to both megatrends and sector-specific trends.

This article arrives as the midway point in a series that investigates five key trends and how they’ll impact the in-building wireless ecosystem in 2017 and beyond. So far, we’ve examined 5G and Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), including when each trend will be felt by the industry and which key functional areas (R&D, Marketing, Sales) should be focused on it in 2017.

Today, we tackle public-safety communications and E911 location services.

An Industry Shaped by Regulations and Requirements

ps-illustrationThe importance of indoor public-safety communications and location services cannot be overstated. Public-safety personnel must be able to communicate and coordinate efforts. Likewise, the general public needs to be able to call for help as well as receive alerts and instructions. Plus, knowing only the horizontal location of the caller is insufficient – the vertical location or z-axis is essential information during an emergency when seconds can determine an outcome.

That’s because, according to Chief Alan Perdue, the executive director of the Safer Buildings Coalition (disclosure: I serve as a board member), an estimated 80 percent of all wireless calls originate or terminate inside buildings. Similarly, most emergency incidents occur indoors.

These facts have not lost on the International Code Council (ICC) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) whose bodies created the first national code for indoor public-safety communications in 2009. This model language was elevated to the technical provisions section of the code in 2012, and it is expected that it will be further refined in 2017. Related, FirstNet has hinted that in-building communication is essential, although the independent authority has not indicated whether indoors will be included in its scope to provide emergency responders with a nationwide high-speed, broadband network dedicated to public safety.

Location has also received scrutiny. In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) stated that, “(The) gap in the performance of 911 location service needs to be closed: the public rightfully expects 911 location technologies to work effectively regardless of whether a 911 call originates indoors or outdoors.” The FCC has set forth location rules for both horizontal and vertical location in which certain increasing benchmarks must be met over a timeframe of seven years.

Together, these Fire Code and FCC requirements represent changes that signal potential opportunity. In February 2016, ABI Research forecasted the public safety worldwide spend for DAS will double to $1.7 billion over the next five years. And in a move that advances the lucrative commercial indoor location-based services market, smartphone OEMs have made Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) a standard which will likely spur innovators to develop other applications including public safety.

Nuances Distinguish Indoor Public-Safety from Indoor Commercial Cellular

Members of the in-building wireless ecosystem that view indoor public-safety communications and E911 location as an adjacent market to capture greater customer share-of-wallet will likely find more differences than similarities to commercial cellular in their go-to-market strategy:

·       Public safety is a regulated industry which means that products and network performance “shall” – not “should” – meet specified requirements and standards. Failure to comply significantly impacts the venue owner.

·       Buyers, influencers and channel partners tend to be stakeholders the commercial in-building wireless ecosystem has not consistently engaged before. They include Venue Owners, Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), A&E firms and electrical contractors.

·       The buying decision is not based upon return-on-investment (ROI) but, instead compliance with an unfunded mandate. As a result, price is the key consideration.

·       OEMs should expect to reap lower revenue per project while shouldering higher manufacturing costs. That’s because the infrastructure needed for public-safety is approximately a quarter to a third of that for commercial cellular. Plus, products must be “hardened” to meet certain unique public safety-grade requirements which include NEMA Type 4 enclosures, 24-hour battery backup capabilities, dry contacts for fire panel connections, filtering against competing signals, and red paint.

·       The market is as nascent as indoor commercial cellular was in 2002, which means that the likelihood of a fundamental understanding of problem-solution scenarios among AHJs, CRE and A&E stakeholders is low.

Timeframes and Stakeholder Focus

ps-timelineA market currently exists to address indoor public-safety communications due to prevailing code requirements. But, given the aforementioned nuances, organizations should weigh the risks and rewards. It is likely that momentum for this market as well as E911 location won’t meaningfully increase until five years when codes become more stringent and uniform, LTE public-safety is launched through FirstNet, and location requirement standards become higher.

Conceivably, R&D, Marketing and Sales groups among in-building ecosystem organizations will be actively engaged in 2017. R&D should manage the product portfolio via a build-buy-or-partner approach with the understanding that the majority of buildings within the foreseeable future will be addressed by BDA Signal Boosters, not Active DAS and Small Cell solutions. To fill the information void, Marketing should develop programs to engage and educate AHJs and Venue stakeholders. Finally, Sales should similarly liaise with public-safety and E911 location buyers, and cultivate channel partners who possess both venue owner relationships and expertise in local and regional public-safety deployments.

In summary, requirements for indoor public-safety communications and E911 location services is going to usher evolutionary and revolutionary change that can manifest as either opportunity or threat to participants within the in-building ecosystem depending on how they position themselves. Will your organization be prepared?

Next trend: The Tier 2 Venue Market.

Mike Collado helps companies win mindshare and capture marketshare. He is a Principal Consultant at Wireless 20/20 and former Vice President of Marketing at SOLiD. He also serves as a strategic advisor for both industry and nonprofit organizations and is an author, blogger and frequent speaker at wireless industry events. Contact him at mike@mikecollado.net.


Small Cells Help Locate Emergency Callers

By Ernest Worthman…

Presently mobile phone networks are required to determine and report the location of E911 emergency calls from phones that are located mostly outdoors. In March, the FCC regulators announced plans for new rules to report, accurately, the location of emergency calls made from smartphones inside buildings. The current E911, Phase 1, rule only requires the report of the location of the serving cell site. It doesn’t differentiate between small or macro cells.



According to the FCC, 70 percent of today’s emergency calls are made from mobile phones as opposed to landlines.

That has given rise to E911, Phase 2, which requires pinpointing the smartphone itself, to within 300 meters for non-GPS enabled device and down to 50 meters for those with built-in GPS receivers.

This makes a lot of sense because as more and more cell sites are added to the network, the ability to improve accuracy rises. As smart devices become even smarter, a location could automatically generated in certain instances. For example, in an emergency situation, such as an auto accident, an airbag release could trigger an automatic E911 call and report the location. This is where better accuracy is necessary since the call is automated, and there is no exchange between the caller and the first responder network.

As long as the caller can interface with the emergency service, the location can be readily determined. But with automated calls, urban accuracy is between 227 and 449 meters, according to FCC tests based upon today’s mobile location technology – insufficient to pinpoint the location close enough for a critical, minutes count response. And that is horizontal ground positioning. In multi-story buildings or sprawling building sites, the exact emergency location may be several stories high or in wings that are difficult to navigate.

One interesting approach to determine a call’s floor height, for example, could use barometric pressure differences. Although the pressure itself varies with the weather, if readings are compared between the caller’s smartphone and an emergency crew’s device, it could help pinpoint which floor they should go to. Many of the latest smartphones do have this type of sensor fitted, and the data could be reported as part of the emergency call. It would also be possible for the small cell to be fitted with a barometric sensor. This is a workable solution because the technology for this is already in LTE Release 9 standards, which also provide for the measurement of the downlink arrival time for signals from the cell sites. The location granularity naturally improves as more small cells are deployed.

Wi-Fi is another option that can be used to improve accuracy. Enterprise-grade Wi-Fi is available that can determine the range via round trip signal time, and with multiple access points, locating people within buildings to 10-20 meter accuracy, according to supplier claims. The one major issue with Wi-Fi is to make sure the data is correct and not a false positive, because Wi-Fi doesn’t have a fail-safe built in to check the data to see if it is actual or erroneous.


Ernest Worthman is the Editor of AGL Small Cell magazine, an AGL Media Group publication