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BT’s 999 call service now saving lives around the world

5 September 2016


A new mobile location system, pioneered by BT, that helps emergency services get to incidents more quickly is now being adopted across the globe.

The Advanced Mobile Location (AML) service allows 999 calls made from mobile phones to be pinpointed much more precisely.

When an emergency call is made with an AML-enabled smartphone the phone automatically activates its location service to establish its position and sends this in a text message to the 999 service.

AML is up to 4,000 times more accurate than existing location systems and as a result has attracted the attention - and admiration - of a number of significant industry players worldwide, as John Medland, BT’s 999 policy manager explains:

Industry enthusiasm

“For a few years now, organisations including national emergency numbering associations, handset manufacturers and mobile network operators have all been showing abundant enthusiasm for the AML system which was initially explored with help from BT’s labs in Adastral Park near Ipswich.”

“However, things can sometimes become slow moving. Especially with many organisations involved in the emergency call handling chain. We had to be persistent and keep faith in what is clearly a great innovation.”

"I’m so glad we did because now, the potential for global mass market adoption of this life-saving system has been brought sharply into focus thanks to the impression it has made on our friends at Google.”

Says John Medland: “Independently Google had looked at building their own mobile location system to help emergency services receive accurate location information. But they hadn’t got as far as we had. Then they saw what we had done in BT, working together with UK mobile networks and some handset providers, and were hugely impressed.”

Proof of concept

“Not only had we built the platform, we’d trialled it, tested it and proved it worked. We navigated our way past a whole host of problems which can affect how effective mobile location identification can be.”

“For example,’ adds John, “we found that some networks were configured not to allow an SMS carrying location to be sent during an emergency call, and with some handsets, the GPS functionality switches off automatically when an emergency call is made. Our work with mobile networks and handset manufacturers has helped to change this, and we’ve captured the principles in an ETSI document.”

Android integration

“In recent months we’ve been working closely with Google to help them integrate AML into the Android operating system. Now it’s just been implemented UK-wide, and it looks like it’s set to be unleashed Europe-wide and even around the world – helping to save lives.”

Andy Miles, innovation architect, Applied Innovation, BT Technology, Service & Operations, began working on AML back in 2011 after being briefed by John Medland.

Says Andy: “John and his colleague Ian Johnston had the idea of using location services on early smartphones along with the BT emergency SMS service to provide more accurate location data to police, fire and ambulance. He set us the challenge to prove it could work in an emergency scenario and identify roadblocks to resolve ahead of a roll-out.”

“My colleague Adrian Rham and I built and tested the prototype. Our approach was thorough and included testing with the live systems with the help of Ian Johnston, David Meiklejohn and Stuart Goodman in the BT TSO Voice and Multimedia 999 team.”

“I remember spending lots of time in ditches and similar awkward locations. This gave us a greater understanding of implementing our technology so it would work in real life situations.”

Motorway service

Adds Andy: ‘We tested it and tested it some more. We knew that with existing technology you could tell which bit of a motorway someone involved in an incident was calling from.”

“That’s great, but with our system you had a good chance of being able to tell what side of the motorway they were calling from. This could be critical in knowing which junction to use to access the incident. That could mean an ambulance gets to a scene ten minutes earlier - which is potentially life-saving.”

“I am pleased as punch that this project is really accelerating. It represents immense kudos for the company and is without doubt the best thing I’ve worked on at BT.”  

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