Letter Re: Cell Phone E-911 Tracking

Dear Jim,

Someone wrote about E911 phones and GPS tracking. I worked in that industry, with that specific issue and I can provide some facts.

#1 The chip does not function unless you either Dial 911 or turn it to Location On, which shows a circle with a plus sign through it and two end parentheses to its right. It is common to see the circle-plus sign without the parentheses. Check your manual to verify this. It will list this under “icons” or E911. Phones come with them preset to “911 only”, not “on”. Phones from Nextel/Sprint or using location based services must have the GPS turned on to work.

#2 Its not real GPS. It does not talk to satellites. Its just triangulating on the company towers. This gives an accuracy of +/- 3 feet but its main purpose is to get you to the nearest 911 call center in the event you dial 911. That’s about it.

#3 While it is possible the phone operating systems could be fibbing and the Location service could be on when it says its off, that is unlikely since it would affect battery life, require violation of customer privacy rights, risks lawsuits when exposed, and requires a conspiracy to accomplish, the black helicopter kind. I’m not a fan of conspiracies since humans are very good at bungling basic stuff and very bad at keeping secrets. It is far more likely that it really is off, just like it says.

#4 Yes, there really IS a law enacted by FCC back on Sept 12, 2001 that required these chips to be mandated into phones by July 1, 2005 and all non GPS phones taken out of service by the end of 2006. Some of my former customers had received letters from their carriers and verified by the FCC to this effect.

#5 There’s also the secondary issue that older phones typically have stronger and now illegal analog signal amplifiers which when running analog can block more than 720 digital calls. This has been a real waste of bandwidth and the FCC has been after the cell companies to get them off the market and into the garbage bins. The companies have handled it by offering incentives to change out the phone for a newer model with E911 and usually all digital. All digital phones don’t hog bandwidth, don’t block other’s calls, but don’t really work in the boonies either. For the boonies, you need a Tri-Mode phone. This means digital and analog backup. You also need an extendable antenna. A stub antenna is nearly worthless in analog areas because the signal won’t propagate well. Many phones have plugs for antenna extension kits, the kind you can mount on a car roof and a small cable and jack to plug into the phone. Those work well, BTW.

#6 The boonies are mostly analog until Jan 1 2008, when all analog cell service is turned OFF, permanently, another FCC mandate. This means that either these sites get upgraded to digital or they lose their licenses, probably auctioned off and end up with big carriers. The carriers will do a cost study and decide for themselves whether said boonies are worth converting to digital or if they’ll just let them die with no signal. Some sites may not get bought and those regions may lose cell service entirely. Cell companies are very greedy, keep in mind. If they can’t make a huge profit, they won’t do it at all. A small profit or slow profit is not within their timescale. It is likely that many rural areas with low populations will lose cell service entirely.

#7 Cell phones use lots of electrical power. This means that in blackouts, while they do have generators, those must be topped off. In a survival situation or one of slowly deteriorating conditions they will work, at first. The more phones in digital, the less issues with blocked service. After spending lots of money and time topping off tanks it is highly likely, if the conditions persist, that cell companies will start charging more money for calls made during blackouts than ones when the power is on. Expect to have to pay a hefty premium and overage rates for calls made during blackouts. The companies have not released any plans for this, but they already produced emergency blackout kits for their retail stores last summer, as if they fully expect to operate when the power is out, which is particularly weird since you can’t activate or change service without computer access to the network switches. Hope this info helps. Best, – Marshall