Enhanced Triple Zero detects location of mobile callers

Emergency services will be able to triangulate location of callers using mobile base stations

People dialing 000 from a mobile phone in an emergency will now automatically transmit more specific detail about their current location.

The enhancement to Triple Zero announced today by the Communications Alliance could mean quicker response times to calls from mobile users because it enables emergency services to triangulate a mobile caller’s location using nearby mobile base stations.

Previously, mobile devices sent only the general area of the call — for example Sydney — and callers had to tell the Triple Zero operator their location over the phone.

While an improvement, mobile triangulation is not as precise as GPS. Accuracy will vary based on the number of mobile cell towers in an area and the presence of tall trees, buildings or hills. In areas with only one base station, a rough estimate of location can be determined by using latitude and longitude and an estimate of radius.

Emergency services had already been able to determine the location of people calling from landlines by looking up their addresses in the Integrated Public Number Database. This is not possible with mobile phones because they do not have a fixed location.

“Currently mobile calls account for around 66 per cent of calls made to Triple Zero,” said Comms Alliance CEO John Stanton.

“Until now, emergency calls from mobile phones have not automatically provided location information in relation to the adjacent mobile cell towers that the emergency call is being made from.

“This is not an issue for the majority of mobile calls made to Triple Zero, as in most cases the caller can tell the emergency service organisation where they are located, but there are times when callers are distressed, injured, confused or unfamiliar with their surrounding environment – making it difficult for them to report their location.”

All three Australian mobile network operators – Telstra, Optus and Vodafone – have implemented the changes, said the Comms Alliance. However, the capability also requires implementation by police, fire and ambulance services to function, and will be rolled out over the next nine months, it said.

Telstra, which serves as the Emergency Call Person for Triple Zero, is working closely with emergency service organisations in each state and territory to facilitate the rollout of the additional location information, the Comms Alliance said.

In addition to industry, the initiative to enhance Triple Zero has also involved participation of the Department of Communications, Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency (TUSMA).

The upgrade comes amid a review of the national Triple Zero operator by the Department of Communications. The department has set a goal of bringing Triple Zero up to date with modern communications technology and moving it beyond the existing voice-only service.

This could include allowing emergency services to receive SMS text messages through the number, something that is not possible today.

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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Tags triple zero000emergency servicesemergency callstelecommobilefirst responderstelcospublic safety

More about Australian Communications and Media AuthorityCommunications AllianceDepartment of CommunicationsOptusVodafone

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