SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Chip problems and other factors are reportedly causing more delays in the mass deployment of emergency 911 (E911) wireless services in the United States, SBN has learned.
The delays are impacting chip sets based on global positioning system (GPS) technology. These chip sets--which are supposed to be embedded in every cellular phone--are designed to provide an exact location of an emergency 911 caller from a handset.
However, the two leading suppliers of GPS chips for E911 deployments--SiRF Technology Inc. and Qualcomm Inc.--separately charge that its competitor's parts cannot meet the rigid E911 specifications. The situation threatens to possibly delay deployment of the technology in the U.S. market by at least one year.
This could be another serious setback for the much-delayed technology. After delaying E911 wireless services last year, U.S. carriers are now supposed to deploy the technology by October, according to a mandate from the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC mandate says this location information must be accurate to within 125 meters at least 67% of the time.
But some believe it will take two to four years before E911 services will be offered as a standard feature for handsets in the U.S. market, due in part to the complexity of the technology, according to analysts. GPS technology has a poor track record in indoor settings, urban canyons, and other locations, analysts said.
As a result, few--if any--of the major U.S. carriers will deploy E911 services by the October deadline, according to analysts. And only two of the six major U.S. carriers have actually committed to a GPS-based technology for their E911 deployments, analysts said.
Sprint and Nextel have announced their E911 plans, but AT&T, Cingular, VoiceStream, and Verizon reportedly have not revealed their technology roadmaps or deployments for this technology.
Carriers face some difficult decisions in this technology. Basically, there are two types of E911 technologies, including a network-based system and handset-based approach. There is also a hybrid approach as well.
Executives from the two GPS chip rivals--SiRF and Qualcomm--agree that E911 will take off in stages over time. But the technology will not be offered to the masses in the United States by the October deadline.
Some but not all U.S. carriers have begun to place orders for E911-enabled handsets to meet the October deadline. But the U.S. carriers that are jumping on the bandwagon could take from "six months to a year" to deploy this technology, said Kanwar Chadha, vice president of marketing for GPS-chip maker SiRF in San Jose.
"E911 is becoming a reality," Chandha said. "We expect the market will shift towards E911 services starting next year."
SiRF is one the major suppliers of GPS chips for E911 services. The company's radio-frequency (RF) chips are embedded into the cellular-phone. Then, the handset enables GPS services via satellite transmissions.
The San Jose company claims its architecture is superior to its competitors, most notably Qualcomm's SnapTrack Inc. subsidiary. In fact, SiRF's investors include Nokia, Ericsson, and other, which are reportedly integrating SiRF's chip sets into their respective handsets.
"We handle all of the positioning functions from the handset," Chandha said. "SnapTrack's technology is dependent on the network. SnapTrack's technology does provide E911 services, but it only handles the positioning functions on an infrequent basis," he claimed.
Not surprisingly, Qualcomm disagreed. "We have the only technology that meets the E911 mandate," claimed Johan Lodenius, senior vice president of marketing and product management for Qualcomm's CDMA Technologies, the semiconductor and software arm for the San Diego-based company.
SiRF's technology "doesn't meet the specifications for E911," Lodenius said. "Chip set solutions simply don't work."
The SnapTrack software technology is incorporated in Qualcomm's chip sets, which are designed for use in handsets based on code-division multiple access (CDMA) technology.
When SnapTrack's technology is activated, the wireless network sends an estimate of the location of the handset to a server. The server informs the handset which GPS satellites are in its area, and the handset takes a "snapshot" of the GPS signal. Then, it calculates its distance from all satellites in view and sends this information back to the server.