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TRACKING CELL-PHONE USERS IN DISTRESS

ANYONE WHOSE CAR HAS broken down on a dark and empty highway knows how useful a cellular phone can be. But that's only if you know where you are: 911 dispatchers receive no info on the caller's phone number or location, as they do from traditional wired phone calls. So last year, the Federal Communications Commission issued a mandate calling on wireless carriers to have a system in place that will transmit vital information on 911 calls by Oct. 1, 1998.

The carriers are ahead of schedule. Vanguard Cellular Systems Inc. says it will offer the first enhanced 911 service on its Allentown (Pa.) network in June, using technology from Xypoint Corp. When a call comes in, the wireless phone number and the nearest cellular transmitter will pop up on a dispatcher's screen, giving emergency personnel a general idea of the caller's location. New Jersey just completed a 90-day trial of an even more sophisticated system called TruePosition developed by Associated Group Inc., which determines the caller's location within a half-block radius. TruePosition developer Kenneth Sanders says some 8,000 wireless emergency calls came in during the trial, and the caller was accurately located 67% of the time.

Why the hurry? A study from Strategis Group consulting firm predicts that the demand for wireless location services could reach $8 billion a year if extended to include truck fleet tracking and navigation assistance.

EDITED BY CATHERINE ARNST


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Updated June 15, 1997 by bwwebmaster
Copyright 1997, Bloomberg L.P.
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