Wireless 9-1-1 Overview

What is Wireless 9-1-1?
In most areas of North America, citizens have basic or enhanced 9-1-1 service from their landline, or wireline, phones in their homes or workplaces.  Basic 9-1-1 means that when the three-digit number is dialed, a call taker/dispatcher in the local public safety answering point (PSAP), or 9-1-1 center, answers the call.  The emergency and its location are communicated by voice between the caller and the call taker.  In areas serviced by Enhanced 9-1-1, the local 9-1-1 center has equipment and database information that allow the call taker to see the caller’s phone number and address on a display.  This lets them quickly dispatch emergency help, even if the caller is unable to communicate where they are or what the emergency is.  (For additional basic information on 9-1-1, see The Development of 9-1-1.)

However, when 9-1-1 calls are made from wireless phones, the call may not be routed to the closest 9-1-1 center, and the call taker doesn’t receive the callback phone number or the location of the caller.  This presents life threatening problems due to lost response time, if callers are unable to speak or don’t know where they are, or if they don’t know their wireless phone callback number and the call is dropped.

Three Phases of Wireless 9-1-1
There are 3 phases that are referred to in implementing Wireless 9-1-1.  The most basic of these, sometimes called Wireless Phase 0, simply means that when you dial 9-1-1 from your cell phone a call taker at a public safety answering point (PSAP) answers.  The call taker may be at a state highway patrol PSAP, at a city or county PSAP up to hundreds of miles away, or at a local PSAP, depending on how the wireless 9-1-1 call is routed.

Wireless Phase I is the first step in providing better emergency response service to wireless 9-1-1 callers.  When Phase I has been implemented, a wireless 9-1-1 call will come into the PSAP with the wireless phone call back number.  This is important in the event the cell phone call is dropped, and may even allow PSAP employees to work with the wireless company to identify the wireless subscriber.  However, Phase I still doesn’t help call takers locate emergency victims or callers.

To locate wireless 9-1-1 callers, Phase II must have been implemented in the area by local 9-1-1 systems and wireless carriers.  Phase II allows call takers to receive both the caller’s wireless phone number and their location information.

Wireless 9-1-1 Requirements

Phase 0: Required by basic 911 rules (according to the FCC).  Wireless 9-1-1 calls are to be transmitted to a PSAP regardless of whether being placed by a wireless service subscriber or non-subscriber.

Phase I: April 1, 1998 or within 6 months of being requested by the PSAP, whichever comes later.  See also the Wireless 9-1-1 Requirements Fact Sheet on the Reference Information page.

Phase II: Originally, October 1, 2001. Specific requirements differ for network-based and handset-based solutions.  For specific requirements and dates, see the Wireless 9-1-1 Requirements Fact Sheet on the Reference Information page.

Wireless Statistics
In our increasingly wireless society, more and more of the mobile public is dialing 9-1-1 every day—about 86 million people were subscribers of wireless telephone service in 1999, according to the Cellular Telephone Industry Association (CTIA). In addition, CTIA estimates that nearly 46,000 Americans become wireless subscribers every day.

It is estimated that of the 150 million calls that were made to 9-1-1 in 2000, 45 million of them were made by wireless telephone users—that’s 30 percent. This is a ten-fold increase from nearly 4.3 million wireless 9-1-1 calls just 10 years ago, and the number will more than double to 100 million calls in the next five years. It is anticipated that by 2005, the majority of 9-1-1 calls will be from wireless callers.

Beginning this year, statistical information on wireless 9-1-1 will be more exact and readily available within NENA’s Report Card to the Nation project. In this first ever nation-wide survey of the industry, NENA will track a variety of 9-1-1 system information including wireline and wireless call statistics, 9-1-1 service levels, legislation, equipment, staffing information, and more.

Frightening statistics about wireless calls to 9-1-1, like those stated above, and the actions of industries tangential to 9-1-1 have brought us together to develop solutions that will ultimately work best for the citizens we serve.

A Critical Public Safety Issue
“[Wireless 9-1-1] is rapidly becoming a critical public safety issue affecting all Americans,” said W. Mark Adams, NENA’s Executive Director, in a June 1999 NENA press release. “In the 16 years since cell phones were introduced, 9-1-1 operators have not been able to automatically receive the location or even the phone number of people calling from a wireless phone.”

The industry set forth to educate itself, our legislators and our public of the critical need for wireless 9-1-1 service. After having been the topic of discussion in 9-1-1 for several years, wireless 9-1-1 service is finally becoming a reality. With a sturdy infrastructure and the technology necessary to support wireless 9-1-1 service, members of each state’s public safety community have worked—or are working—tirelessly to pass the legislation necessary to fund this valuable, necessary, and overdue component to the public safety system.

Now, with legislation, funding, and the technology in hand or on the way, the challenge is being met and our wireless telephone users can be confident that—in the future—help will indeed be on the way when they dial 9-1-1 from a cell phone.