Product Reviews

Thanks Jennifer. We are looking forward to working with you. We will be in touch

Your account has been created

Wireless 911 calls need an upgrade

Despite technological advances, it’s hard to locate people calling 911 from indoors

Published: August 22, 2014 06:30 PM

Find Ratings

When it comes to cell phones and 911 calls, the news is a mixed bag.

The good news: When you're outdoors and make a 911 call with your cell phone, the dispatcher should be able to tell precisely where you are, thanks to requirements by the Federal Communications Commission and advancements in location technology, such as GPS.

The bad news, especially when you consider that 70 percent of 911 calls now come from cell phones and that most cell calls are made from indoors: When you’re calling from inside a tall building or from an indoor location in a big city, it can be much harder to pinpoint your location. You could be stuck inside an apartment, office, or hotel, incapacitated and unable to describe your locale, and your cell phone wouldn't provide critical details to the 911 dispatcher.

The inability of 911 to locate cell phones indoors is a serious and, with more and more Americans opting for wireless-only phone service, growing issue. That’s why Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, is pressing for new standards for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, and other wireless carriers to improve indoor-location accuracy.

This year, the Federal Communications Commission put a proposal on the table that would raise benchmarks for wireless companies to help first responders locate wireless 911 calls. In five years, the carriers would be required to transmit locations for 911 calls made from indoors, with technology to pinpoint a floor of a building. Companies would have to report on their performance and progress, which is important because it can improve accountability and speed up improvements.

People in many situations would benefit from these proposed standards: a child calling 911 on a cell phone for an adult when neither can describe the place, disabled and injured people who have difficulty verbalizing where they are, or anyone indoors in an urban environment where more than simple GPS coordinates are needed to find them.

We believe the FCC’s proposal would save lives. It should be a priority for wireless carriers and regulators to ensure that all Americans can get emergency help, whether they're calling from indoors or outdoors, on a cell phone or landline.

This feature is part of a regular series by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization advocates for product safety, financial reform, safer food, health reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

Read other installments of our Policy & Action feature.

Find Ratings

Cell phones Ratings

View and compare all Cell phones ratings.

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters! Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Electronics News


Cars Build & Buy Car Buying Service
Save thousands off MSRP with upfront dealer pricing information and a transparent car buying experience.

See your savings


Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more