Google teams up with T-Mobile on more-accurate 911 location data

Enhanced location service runs on 99 percent of active Android phones.

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Smartphone Call to 911
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Emergency operators in the US will soon be able to get more-accurate information about the location of Android phones used to dial 911.

Google said Wednesday that it's partnered with T-Mobile and emergency technology providers RapidSOS and West to send emergency call centers information from its Emergency Location Service (ELS), an enhanced location service that runs on 99 percent of active Android devices.

About 240 million emergency calls are placed in the US each year, with more than 80 percent coming from mobile devices, according to the National Emergency Number Association. But because wireless phones are mobile, they're not associated with a fixed address like a landline.

Previously, phones relied on a combination of GPS technology and cell tower information to locate the caller to transmit not addresses but rather coordinates, which isn't as useful to first responders. It also isn't as effective when a device is indoors.

Google's ELS pinpoints the location of a T-Mobile customer's handset through a combination of GPS, Wi-Fi, mobile networks and sensors, in much the same way Google Maps provides location data, Google said. Google said testing of the technology earlier this year showed the system reduced the average radius of the area in which a caller may be located from 522 feet to 121 feet, which results in shorter response times in critical situations.

This comes after Google launched the service in the UK and Estonia in 2016. Product Manager Akshay Kannan said in a blog post back then that your GPS information is sent directly to emergency services and is "never seen or handled by Google."

In June, Apple said iOS 12 would let iPhone users share location with 911 operators and enable emergency staff to locate callers more accurately and quickly.

ELS works on all devices running Android version 4.0 or higher, through Google Play Services, without the need for installation of a separate app, Google said. The system is currently available in 14 countries around the world, providing emergency centers with location data on more than 140,000 emergency calls per day.

CNET's Marrian Zhou contributed to this report.

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