How to Enable Better Location for Emergency Calls: Galileo and 112

Published: 
14 May 2014

The swiftness of emergency services is a critical factor to saving lives. But to intervene successfully, emergency services need to know exactly where the incident is. This is an area where mobile phones enabled for Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), such as Galileo, can help. But to what extent, if any, is regulation in this area useful or even necessary? This question was the subject of a public hearing run by the European Commission in Brussels on 7 May 2014.

E112 is a location-enhanced version of the 112 universal European emergency number, where the telecommunication operator transmits location information to the emergency centre in parallel to the call itself. Currently, the Universal Service Directive describes the detailed requirements for Member States on 112, including the requirement that emergency services be able to establish the location of the person calling 112.

However, in practice there is a gap between citizens’ expectations of location accuracy (5-10 m) and the current emergency location solutions available in EU Member States using mobile cell or sector ID (100m- 40 km). To close this gap, the European Commission is now considering possible next steps to require mobile phones and other portable devices such as tablets to be equipped with Galileo and EGNOS chipsets, thus being able to automatically send more accurate location data as part of any emergency call to 112. In the US, an equivalent concept for all calls to the 911 emergency number is already in place.

This enhanced E112 concept is a similar to the eCall system, which aims to provide an emergency location signal from new cars in Europe. eCall will automatically alert emergency services if systems on the car sense the vehicle has been involved in an accident.

E-GNSS Providing Precise Location

The consultation hearing held in Brussels on 7 May focused on the mandated use of Galileo for some specific regulated activities, such as providing location information during calls to emergency services via the 112 emergency number.

At the consultation, Christoph Kautz from the European Commission introduced aspects of the new Action Plan to promote satellite navigation technology in the EU. “The Commission has a legal obligation to to look at potential activities that maximise the societal benefits of Europe’s investment in satellite navigation technologies such as Galileo and EGNOS,” he explained. “Having accurate caller location can significantly reduce search costs and minimise the impact of an accident or incident in terms of health and material loss.”

It was also noted that a similar requirement to ensure access to location information for emergency services was already used in the maritime environment and in ski areas prone to avalanches.

Justyna Redelkiewicz of the European GNSS Agency (GSA) provided an overview of the status of EGNOS and Galileo and their role in supporting the Commission’s Action Plan. “Today there are some 426 million smartphones in Europe and there is a growing trend towards integrating various location technologies such as mobile cell id, GNSS and Wi-Fi into these devices,” she said. “In addition, the use of multi-constellation GNSS is rapidly becoming the baseline for improved accuracy, availability and ‘time to first fix’.”

According to Redelkiewicz, GNSS and A-GNSS (assisted GNSS) are both very good candidates to ensure precise location and improved accuracy, along with representing a cost effective solution. She specifically noted that EGNOS is capable of delivering even more accurate positioning, especially in remote areas.

Stakeholder Support

Presentations from a number of stakeholder groups demonstrated the urgent need for an improved location data provision for emergency services.

Johannes Vallesverd, chairman of the Numbering and Networks Working Group of the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations - Electronic Communications Committee (CEPT – ECC), noted that the CEPT has been key to delivering harmonisation of the 112 emergency number across Europe since 1972.

With the E112 concept, he stated that this is “An area where we need to be progressive and there is no time to loose!” Often the use of cell IDs gave only a general direction for emergency services rather than a specific location and this was costing lives across Europe. He called on the consultation participants to “Say yes to GNSS and network based caller location information.”

Cristina Lumbreras from the European Emergency Number Association (EENA) outlined the NGO’s support for the initiative. “From the emergency service perspective, the time of delivery of location is very important,” she said. “Currently, the accuracy is not good enough in Europe.”

There is considerable variation across Europe with the time to provision of caller location, varying from 1-2 seconds to more than 10 minutes – with clear implications for health outcomes for any delay in services reaching the caller. EENA’s executive director Gary Machado estimated that 65% of all emergency calls in Europe are made from mobile phones. For EENA’s members, the better regulation and enforcement of improved caller location data is a major priority.

Using data obtained from EENA’s membership, Machado estimated the annual economic cost of the delays induced by inaccurate location data at over €4 billion, while the cost of implementing a system to relay GNSS location from equipped smartphones is estimated to be €250 million.

The Right Answer

To illustrate, the UK uses a single point access for emergency service calls. Whereas landlines give caller identification and allow for quick confirmation of the caller’s address, mobile calls use the call’s cell site, which could encompass an area with a radius from two to 20 kilometres.

A trial project currently underway is using a smartphone capable of recognising when an emergency call is made, which causes it to activate GNSS and Wi-Fi to collect location data. The data is then sent as a SMS text to the emergency number where it is verified and correlated with the emergency call. The trial has shown good results in urban, rural and domestic environments, including use in a moving vehicle.

Results like these have convinced Thales Alenia Space’s Bruno Gagnou that GNSS is the right answer for E112 positioning. “The technology is reliable and accurate,” he said. “With obvious benefits for society, lives will be saved, the security of citizens enhanced, and European industry will be supported.”

Gagnou believes that Galileo should be mandated in order to ensure a harmonised approach across Europe and avoid an anarchic, non-compliant deployment of technologies for E112. “EU emergency services should rely on EU technology,” he concluded. “And EU citizens deserve the best E112 emergency service.”

“Having accurate caller location can significantly reduce search costs and minimise the impact of an accident or incident in terms of health and material loss.”

Christoph Kautz, European Commission 


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More information: 

The European GNSS Agency 

EGNOS Portal (Road)

European Commission 112 Consultation

European Emergency Number Association Position Paper