What is happening to 911 to enable texting?
On June 1, 2017, the Canadian Regulatory Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) issued Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2017-182 which defined how the industry would be modernizing the 9-1-1 networks to meet the public safety needs of Canadians by implementing Next Generation 9-1-1 (Referred to as NG9-1-1).
Within this regulatory policy, the CRTC determined that real-time text-based NG9-1-1 Text Messaging will be the second method of communication to be supported on the NG9-1-1 networks. (Referred to as RTT).
The CRTC directed mobile wireless service providers (MSPs) to provide RTT-based NG9-1-1 Text Messaging throughout their operating territories by 31 December 2020. The availability of this service will be dependent upon the ability of the Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs’) to answer the real-time text calls and the ability of users’ handsets initiate Real-Time Text sessions.
To be clear, the CRTC regulates the telecommunications network, but not the individual PSAPs. Over the next 11 months, the telecom service providers will be upgrading their networks to accommodate RTT.
Brief Historical Perspective
In the dark ages of ‘analogue telecommunications’ a system of Teletypes and Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf (TTY/TDD) were used to provide services to people who were hearing, (or speech), impaired. This predated the use of mobile devices and the proliferation of texting. However, Simple Message Service (SMS) and Multimedia Message Service (MMS) texting were not adopted for access to 9-1-1 services for a variety of reasons.
The exception was the creation of a special subscription service for hearing and speech impaired people to be able to text T9-1-1. This system created a special class of service for handsets that are pre-registered.
T9-1-1 is initiated from a registered wireless handset by first placing a “silent” voice call to 9-1-1. The PSAP call taker receives the call and the displayed unique class of service of the registered handset prompts the call taker to initiate a Short Message Service (SMS) text message session with the caller to address the emergency.
T9-1-1 was designed to provide a service similar to that available to the TTY/TDD users but was now on a mobile platform.
This service was not available to the general public, and the calls required special handling within the PSAP throughout the session.
What is Special and Different About RTT?
The issue with SMS and MMS texting, begins with the methodology of processing texts was not consistent with the unique treatment that 9-1-1 calls receive in the voice network. SMS and MMS Texting are primarily mobile device services, the ‘voice’ network is not leveraged to process these messages. Therefore, much of the unique handling of 9-1-1 calls could not be afforded to SMS communications.
In addition, SMS and MMS services are ‘best effort’ type services. That means that in the event of network congestion, the messages will be delayed, and in some cases without an available destination will be held for hours or days before being delivered.
Real-time Text is very different than SMS/MMS texting and it will be critical that the public understands the differences and how to use RTT to contact a 9-1-1 service provider for assistance.
To start with, the RTT User will not use the standard messaging application on their mobile device. The RTT 9-1-1 session will begin with the User opening the native dialer on their compatible smart phone device and tapping an RTT Icon to begin the session. (See adjoining sample screen).
Once the session is begun, the user will dial 9-1-1 and the usual call routing/location identification processes will occur. The PSAP call taker will get a special notification that this is an RTT call and texting screens will open at both ends of the call.
Uniquely, the call taker will be able to see the characters being typed as they occur. There will not be a requirement to “send” the text after x number of characters. It will be a two-way text conversation (similar to voice) with all of the key board activities being visible to both parties.
This will provide hearing/speech impaired individuals with the ability to text even if the device being used is not the one that was registered.
A person who is unable to speak due to injury can communicate with 9-1-1 via RTT.
Situations may occur where ‘silence’ is necessary, and the 9-1-1 call taker can still receive important information and monitor the call.
A message is not lost for a person who loses consciousness during the session since all keyboard activity is visible without the need to hit ‘send’.
PSAP readiness: The service will be available by telecommunication service providers by the end of 2020, but the PSAP’s will not necessarily be ready to receive the RTT voice or text until their various communications centre upgrades are completed.
Governing authorities: Although the CRTC regulates the telecommunications carriers, the PSAPs are controlled by their governing authorities which are Provinces, Territories and Municipalities, depending on where you are in the country.
Confusion across geographical jurisdictions: We believe that there will likely be confusion of service availability across adjoining and adjacent jurisdictions. For example, in the GTA, there is Halton, Peel, York, Durham, Toronto and OPP that provide 911 support to the public. As the service rolls out, how will the public be aware of which jurisdiction apply for mobile users across geographical area?
Device Compatibility: User device compatibility is also going to be an issue. Some devices may only require a software download, while others will possibly have to be replaced depending on the manufacturer, vintage and operating system (IOS or Android).
Net….NG9-1-1 Real time text is coming, but public awareness and education will be critical to ensure successful communications and support.
We will provide more details in future blogs and webinars.
If you would like to book a ½ hour complementary ‘NG9-1-1 web Fireside Chat’ to discuss the choices your organization will have to move to NG9-1-1, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Roberta Fox at 289.648.1981.