Enhanced location technology pinpoints 999 callers on mobiles

The UK’s emergency services will soon be able to locate mobile phone users making 999 calls, using enhanced location technology...

The UK’s emergency services will soon be able to locate mobile phone users making 999 calls by using enhanced location technology developed by the main five mobile operators, BT and Cable & Wireless.

The technology, which will be rolled out by the Fire, Police, Ambulance and Coastguard services in the coming months, has been developed because mobile users are not always able to identify the place they are calling 999 from. It is also designed to help identify hoax callers.

The new system, developed by BT and C&W - the companies that connect 999 calls dialled from mobile phones to the emergency services - and O2, Orange, T-Mobile, Vodafone and 3, will allow approximate locations to be identified by control rooms as calls are connected.

The emergency services will be able to locate mobile 999 callers from the mast nearest to them and a mapping system will calculate the co-ordinates. The service will be able to trace callers in urban areas within a 200m radius, although in some rural areas the tracking will only be able to pinpoint a caller to within a 20km area.

Ofcom, the telecoms and media regulator, welcomed the development of the technology, which was demonstrated to members of the emergency services earlier this month.

"More than 43 million 999 calls are made each year and more than 50% of those are from mobile handsets," said Peter Walker, senior adviser for Ofcom’s Technology Strategy group. "The enhanced service represents a major step forward in helping the emergency services to respond to calls from mobile users as speedily as possible."

The new service is in line with the EU directive that includes the requirement to make location information available for all emergency calls. The specification developed in the UK has been adopted by  the European Telecommunication Standards Institute.

Read more on IT strategy