The Future of 9-1-1

9-1-1 + innovation = opportunity. Is anyone grabbing it?

Posted by sip911 on July 16, 2008

Not so long ago....

E9-1-1 has never been a place for innovation. This is for a variety of reasons: lack of capital, lack of funding, lack of motivation, or lack of demand. Advances in Public Safety Communications have been forced by changes in consumer technology and not innovation by service providers. (Some basic history and background is here and here.) The system served its needs to locate fixed-location callers but did not advance at the pace of other technologies. The first new demands on the system started with the Telecom Act of 1996, which opened up the industry to greater competition and the number of CLEC service providers exploded (and later imploded). Side note: I remember being a part of the initial efforts to connect CLECs to the exisiting 9-1-1 update process and having to explain why MSAG files were being provided on magnetic tape. The CLECs were flush with cash, new technology and tons of bravado and had to spend money to send files over a dial-up modem? I remember a CEO or two shaking their heads.

In addition, new breakthroughs in cellular technology has made the cell phone ubiquitious. Unfortunately those darn callers moved. Adding support to mobile callers dramatically impacted the 9-1-1 system creating opportunities and challenges for industry leaders like Intrado and TCS. Solutions were created, adding more capabilities on top of the existing 9-1-1 system, leading to diagrams that look like this (click on image if you really want to read it, although I don’t recommend it):

Not pretty

Not pretty

It worked. It gave cellular 9-1-1 callers a level of service and we moved on. However, with the continued advancement of mobile phones, VoIP plus new challenges like the popularity of SMS text messages. E9-1-1 systems are at a breaking point. Don’t take my word for it. The 9-1-1 Alliance put out a report on the health of the 9-1-1 system and very first finding is “Consumer technology has surpassed that of the 9-1-1 System,” It goes on to say:

Most agree with me that we can’t keep layering more one-offs on top of the existing system (besides, there’s no more room on the diagram.) We, therefore, (a) have a problem, (b) can solve the problem with new, existing technologies AND (c) these new technologies can make things better for emergency responders. That, if I recall my B-school market strategy classes, is called an opportunity (ding, ding ding! – 10 points for me) So where’s the flood of energy and money and technology to take advantage of this opportunity? Where are the major announcements of breakthroughs? Whose beating who in raising gazillions of dollars from Venture Capitalists?

Um, well, I’m looking for it. I’ll be writing about it here in a weekly series.

One place to check out is Emergent Communications, my employer and creator of this blog. We’re pretty biased, but we think we got something pretty cool here.


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