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New testbed for verifying location technologies

July 11, 2016  - By

Horizontal indoor accuracy now, elusive z-axis by end of year

At their advent, mobile phones were conceived to be useful for when people were, well, mobile. And in 1996 when the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) first required that a handset’s location be sent to 911 dispatchers and meet accuracy performance standards, the FCC was understandably solely interested in calls made outdoors.

Indoor FCC rules

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In recognizing the pervasive use of mobile phones indoors and gains in location-determining technology, last year the FCC adopted new rules that establish accuracy requirements for indoor 911 calls.

The FCC didn’t stop there and tackled vertical positioning, ordering that within six years, the elusive z-axis, or altitude, be added to requirements and meet accuracy standards in cases when there is no dispatchable location. The z-axis is critical in finding a person in a building of more than one story, whether a high-rise apartment building in Brooklyn or a three-story dormitory at a university.

This spring, a testbed for verifying location technologies began operations. The FCC required that nationwide wireless providers create an independently administered and openly transparent test bed to verify location technologies used in meeting the accuracy requirements. CTIA, the trade association for the U.S. wireless communications industry, established the 9-1-1 Location Technologies Test Bed as an independent company.

Testing is designed and administered by ATIS, an industry standards association. The testbed regions are located in metropolitan Atlanta and San Francisco and cover a wide range of building types and terrain.

Indoor testing will be performed in 20 buildings within each test region, spanning four morphology types (dense-urban, urban, suburban and rural). Test bed administrators will not divulge the technologies being tested.

No Silver Bullet. The FCC acknowledges that there won’t be one silver bullet location technology, one size fits all that will be the best location solution in all situations.

In the order released on Feb. 3, 2015, the FCC writes, “To be sure, no single technological approach will solve the challenge of indoor location, and no solution can be implemented overnight. The requirements we adopt are technically feasible and technologically neutral, so that providers can choose the most effective solutions from a range of options.

“In addition, our requirements allow sufficient time for development of applicable standards, establishment of testing mechanisms, and deployment of new location technology in both handsets and networks… Clear and measurable timelines and benchmarks for all stakeholders are essential to drive the improvements that the public reasonably expects to see in 911 location performance.”

The 9-1-1 Location Technologies Test Bed has begun indoor testing of currently deployed horizontal location technologies, and its results will be used as part of location accuracy compliance reporting to meet FCC benchmarks.

Toward the end of this year, location technology vendors will use the Test Bed to test near-term emerging horizontal and vertical location technologies, such as z-axis, that are not currently deployed by the nationwide wireless carriers.

JANICE PARTYKA is GPS World’s contributing editor for wireless. She is principal at JGP Services and provides strategy and marketing consulting to the mobile industry. She reported on a previous round of tests, the 2013 FCC-chartered Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) trials of NextNav, Qualcomm and Polaris technologies. See

About the Author: Janice Partyka

Janice Partyka is principal of JGP Services,, a consulting practice that helps companies with marketing strategy, including investigating new markets, ensuring product roadmaps match market needs, and creating marketing campaigns. Janice develops websites, social media, public relations and overall marketing communication. She also works as an expert witness for the mobile industry and conducts prior art searches for patent cases. Janice has served in leadership capacities in the wireless industry, leading marketing, business development, media and government relations, including serving as vice president of external affairs for TechnoCom Corporation. She briefed the Obama transition team on broadband issues. Janice was a twice-elected member of the board of directors of the E9-1-1 Institute, which supports the work of the U.S. Congressional E9-1-1 Caucus to ensure implementation of wireless E9-1-1, and she was telecom liaison to the Intelligent Transportation Society's World Congress. Janice is a frequent speaker at mobile and location industry events. Her webinars on mobile applications and technologies draw audiences from more than 40 countries. Janice Partyka is also the founder of, a web service that helps college students find the right major that will lead to a satisfying career. Contact: Janice Partyka at, Free subscriptions to Wireless LBS Insider are available at