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AT&T to test Text-to-911 service in Tennessee

The carrier will work with the state to test a service that enables mobile phone users to send text message to 911 emergency centers.

Josh Miller/CNET

Mobile phone users across the country may one day be able to text 911 call centers.

AT&T has been given the go-ahead by the state of Tennessee to kick off a trial of a Text-to-911 service across the state. Using the state's new Emergency Service IP Network (ESInet), the test will let AT&T subscribers send text messages to Tennessee 911 call centers.

Dialing 911 by phone is still the preferred way to get help as quickly and easily as possible. But the trial phase would try to add texting to the 911 system as another option. The goal is to see if and how emergency call centers would be able to receive and handle text messages.

Working with Tennessee's Emergency Communications Board, AT&T will use the state's current ESInet and its NetTN IP network backbone to support the service. The test would also tap into various Text-to-911 standards being devised by different industry groups.

"AT&T is committed to working with standard bodies [and] national, state, and local public safety organizations to determine how best to integrate SMS text messages and other advanced communications into future 9-1-1 systems and wireless networks," Mel Coker, vice president of Public Safety Solutions for AT&T Business Solutions, said in a statement. "This trial will be vital in evaluating Text to 9-1-1 solutions with the goal of providing reliable, universal access for our customers."

The Federal Communications Commission has been trying to drum up support for a nationwide Text-to-911 service over the past couple of years.

This past March, the FCC sponsored an exhibition that featured different Text-to-911 technologies and applications.

In May, Verizon announced plans to roll out a Text-to-911 service to select call centers by early 2013. The service would be an option for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, can't make a voice call, or might put themselves in additional danger by speaking.

Other countries have started to adopt the technology. The United Kingdom's Kent police department offers a service for deaf and speech-impaired people to contact authorities via text message.