February 24, 2015

The Desert Sun interviews Jamie Barnett on wireless 911 challenges in California

2 min

The Desert Sun interviewed Venable partner Jamie Barnett in a February 24, 2015 article on challenges facing California in tracking wireless 911 calls. Nationally more than 70% of 911 calls come from cell phones. Unlike landlines, pinpointing the exact location of these calls can be problematic due to technology limitations.

"While it's very difficult to say, 'this person died because of this technology,' you can see a trend," said Barnett. "On some petition drives we did, we asked people why they were signing. One of the themes was [dispatchers saying], 'I'm tired of people dying on the phone with me because I can't find them'."

Making the situation more difficult is the increased number of households switching from landlines to cell only resulting in more wireless calls made from indoors. "Unlike network-based technology, which relies on the cell phone signal itself, this is a GPS signal, which is from much farther away and much weaker, and therefore can be defeated by the roof, the roof of your car, a thick tree canopy," said Barnett. "But here's the thing -- you pay for the chip and the government pays for the satellites, so it's a much cheaper solution."

To help solve the problem, some phone companies have proposed using internet and Bluetooth signals to locate callers while others propose using enhanced satellite signals. Barnett said he thinks we are close to developing technology that can better locate wireless 911 calls, "but there's still some work the FCC needs to do to make sure that's done in a way you can bet your life on."