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Emergency calls from mobiles can now be tracked to 30 metres

James Temperton
6 Nov 2014
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Technology developed by BT, EE and HTC allows emergency services to see location of mobile calls with almost pin-point accuracy

Emergency calls made from mobile phones can now tracked to a radius of 30 metres or less, drastically cutting the time it takes to respond. Currently it is only possible to locate calls from mobiles to within a few square kilometres, with operators taking valuable seconds to determine the location of the caller.

The system (illustrated above), developed by BT, EE and HTC could soon be available on all compatible smartphones with the technology being offered free to all manufacturers and mobile networks. Known as Advanced Mobile Location (AML), the technology is 4,000 times more accurate than the current system.

At present 999 calls made from mobiles take 30 seconds longer to handle on average than calls from landlines, with up to three minutes taken up determining the location of the caller. The new system will hope to cut call times and provide almost instant location information.

When an emergency call is made from a smartphone compatible with AML the phone automatically enables its geolocation function and sends its position by text message to the 999 operator. It takes an average of 18 seconds for the location to be determined accurately and sent. The text message doesn't show on the handset nor does it cost the caller any money.

At present AML is only available on certain HTC phones on EE's network. The technology is available to other networks and manufacturers to use and it is expected that HTC handsets on other networks will get the feature enabled "shortly" with most handsets introducing it in the near future. The HTC phones currently supporting it are the HTC One mini 2, HTC One (M8), HTC Desire 610, HTC One and HTC One mini.

Sue Lampard, president of the British Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (BAPCO) said that the technological development was long overdue:

"The 999 service has remained voice-centric since 1937 – whilst multimedia technology has developed around it. 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."

Around 22 million 999 and 112 emergency calls in the UK are now made from mobile phones, or 60,000 a day. In around 330,000 emergency calls a year the caller is unable to speak to the operator. In 36,000 emergency incidents reported on mobile phones each year the emergency services spend 30 minutes or more searching for the location of the caller.

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."

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