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10/5/2011
11:11 PM
Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
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GPS Mandatory On Mobile Phones By 2018

To modernize the 911 system, the FCC has ruled that all wireless carriers must offer GPS; VoIP services also.

In an effort to modernize the 911 system, the Federal Communications Commission issued a rule Sept. 27 that will mandate that all U.S. carriers include GPS in their phones by 2018. That includes VoIP services as well. The goal is to allow emergency workers to find your position when you dial 911, similar to the way they can when you call via landlines.

Finding people via landline is pretty easy. The 911 operator can simply look up the address based on the number dialed from. With mobile phones it obviously isn't so simple, as the phones move around--hence the term "mobile." It is possible to narrow the area by triangulating based on the towers in the phone's range, but that can only get you within a few city blocks at best. The only way to truly zero in on a caller is with GPS.

Most smartphones today have GPS built in. It is, in fact, one of the big selling points. Just as phones have killed off the cheap camera market, they are in the process of killing the low-end dedicated GPS device. Mapping and location-based services, even if just checking in on a social network, are among the most used features on smartphones.

According to Electronista, 85% of current phones already have GPS. That isn't really the issue though. By 2018, I cannot imagine a phone not having GPS available. What is an issue are VoIP services.

Google Voice, for example, lets you use a virtual phone number. That call isn't routed through your carrier's voice network. In fact, if you are on Wi-Fi, it isn't routed through the carrier's network at all, and the software isn't sending location data along with the signal. The same goes for video calling.

The rule still needs to be voted on before carriers have to abide by it. For those concerned with the government tracking them, the FCC has clarified that the rule will allow carriers to sell devices without GPS. With that little caveat thrown in there, I'm not sure how that differs much from today's situation. Even with that loophole though, I don't see too many carriers bothering to carry non-GPS enabled phones, at least in retail locations. Those phones would just collect dust, similar to the way camera-less phones do today.

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