Verizon Is Taking My Phone Away Because It Doesn't Have GPS?

Reader George writes in with a question:

Hello Ms. Marco,

I had an interesting experience with Verizon Wireless today…I was having trouble paying my bill using my cell phone, so I called them via land line. I paid my bill and I thought all was well…but I was forwarded to a Customer Service representative who informed me that I was going to be shut down…Apparently my Kyrocera 2135, which is several years old but still quite functional, must be discarded because it doesn’t meet the new FCC rules for having GPS built in it. My normal contract with them expired years ago and I have been on a month-to-month plan…

I was aware of a new law regarding GPS, but I didn’t realize that it was fully in effect yet.
In fact, a quick look at Verizon Wireless online doesn’t indicate that all of the many, many phones they sell are complying with this requirement. A check of the FCC website yielded no assistance.

I told the CS rep that I thought he was trying to sell me a new phone and two year contract…naturally he denied this repeatedly…they will hold my phone number until the end of the month…if I don’t get a new phone and a new contract, I will remain cell-less.

Does any of this make any sense to you all???

Many Thanks,
George
Washington, DC

Time for a bedtime story. Forgive us if it’s a little boring, after all—it’s about cellphones and policy and government agencies. Not very exciting stuff, but it will help you to understand why Verizon is being a hardass about your phone.

You see, once upon a time, way back in the early ’00s, cellphones were not very good at locating people who were unable to tell the 911 operator where they were.

This is quite obviously a huge problem because the entire point of 911 is that the operator can locate you if you are in awful trouble and can’t speak. In a perfect world, you could always just call the hospital and order an ambulance for yourself. Then you could file your toenails and watch the Price is Right and wait for them to show up. But life isn’t perfect, and sometimes you need 911 to be able to locate you without your help.

The FCC decided to do something about this problem. They gave the cellphone operators a choice. Either they could come up with a network based solution or a handset based solution.

Your provider, Verizon, chose a handset based solution. They were given a deadline of December 31, 2005. By that date, Verizon was required to convert 95% of its users to the handset solution, GPS. They missed this deadline. Why? Because users didn’t want to upgrade their phones. The FCC gave them more time.

By May 26, 2006 Verizon had become the first carrier to convert 95% of their users to GPS.

You, George, represent part of the 5% that they failed to convert. In a statement announcing their success, Verizon discussed their conversion technique:

“For the past several years, Verizon Wireless worked diligently to educate customers about the safety benefits of GPS-capable handsets; offered customers competitive and affordable choices among those handsets; provided detailed information on its Web site about the benefits of upgrading to GPS-capable handsets, including a Web-based look-up tool for customers to confirm their handset’s Wireless Phase II E911 capability; and stopped activating or re-activating non-GPS handsets on the Verizon Wireless network.”

Sadly for you, George, the FCC hasn’t forgotten about the 911 issue. In fact, they’re currently threatening to impose fines totaling $2.8 million dollars on companies who, unlike Verizon, failed to meet the 95% requirement.

The FCC is also getting really, really upset about the e911 program’s continued lack of effectiveness at locating people who need it. Network based solutions, for example, don’t work very well outside of cities because they use cellphone tower triangulation to locate users. The fewer cellphone towers, the wider the search area. In addition, it’s difficult to ensure that rural areas are getting the coverage they need because the methods that cellphone companies use to report their 911 successes and failures don’t provide specific enough data.

But this is probably boring you. You’re like, “That it should come to this! I just want to stay on my same phone with my same plan.” Well, you’re probably not going to be able to. The good news is that you’re out of contract and can take advantage of all of our awesome cellphone shopping tips. You may well end up with a better deal than the one you have now, and if you fall off your motorcycle in the middle of nowhere and are bleeding to death—you’ll have a much better chance of being found before you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.

Not the answer you were looking for, we know, but we do hope it helps.

(Photo:nomad73)

RELATED: How Joe Saved Hundreds Of Dollars Using Confessions Of A Cellphone Sales Rep

Comments

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  1. nullstrike says:

    Whats kinda sad is the handset solution is not even worth the trouble as many people turn off the GPS feature of the phone anyways. Unfortunatly its mostly criminals that turn them off as to not be tracked as easely, but it still means anyone can do it too and therefore the money spent in this is useless.

  2. beyond says:

    That would piss me off. They should at least offer a free exchange.

  3. swalve says:

    I agree- the law appears to apply to Verizon, not the user. If they want my help to comply with the law, I think a fat discount is in order.

  4. Yankees368 says:

    @BEYOND If you re-sign the contract, odds are that there are many free phones to choose from.

  5. mrmysterious says:

    Cell companies love when you are month to month since that means that they are just making money off you and don’t have to worry about subsidizing the cost of the phone. Granted, if they are subsidizing the cost of your phone they have you locked in a contract.

    Gawd, I hate cell phone providers.

  6. blogsd says:

    “and if you fall off your motorcycle in the middle of nowhere and are bleeding to death-you’ll have a much better chance of being found before you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.”

    Oddly enough, this happened to me in April. I had a wreck and ruptured my spleen. I’d be dead had it not been for GPS 911.

  7. blogsd says:

    “and if you fall off your motorcycle in the middle of nowhere and are bleeding to death-you’ll have a much better chance of being found before you’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.”

    This actually happened to me in April of this year. I had a motorcycle wreck in BFE, broke my left wrist, right arm and ruptured my spleen. I’d be dead if not for GPS 911.

  8. mrmysterious says:

    Oh, and not to mention that when you are out of contract it is the best time to talk to retention and get a plan that may be a better deal…plus get a new phone.

  9. stenk says:

    @swalve: I agree completely.
    This is a requirement that applies to Verizon not the consumer. The consumer should not be affected to this degree, that they shut down his or her service and then holds hisher number hostage for a month.

    A free phone and an apology seems fit in this instance.

  10. dewrock says:

    @SWALVE The law doesn’t only apply to Verizon, but to all cell phone providers. If he/she wants a cell phone, then they have to have one with GPS.

  11. stopNgoBeau says:

    Find a GPS enabled cellphone on ebay, buy it, activate it with Verizon, which shouldn’t require a contract signing.

  12. This, combined with AT&T’s complicity in assisting illegal (re: warrantless) wiretaps is disturbing…disturbing indeed.

  13. burgundyyears says:

    Going by the dates on the reviews shown on epinions, that phone is nearly 6 years old. That might as well be the bronze age.

    And this is not a new law – the E911 requirements have been in law for years now as pointed out in the original post.

    You should talk renewal options with them. Telling them you have no intention of changing phones will only get you dropped, as you found out.

  14. YoHenYo says:

    Wouldn’t it be in good business practice to give him a new, GPS enabled subsidized cell phone? That way, his month to month contract will remain intact, keeping in the real revenue of the company.

    Sometimes I think that major companies realize that giving a little away will result profitable returns.

  15. Alvis says:

    Way to ignore the issue: she doesn’t WANT a GPS-enabled phone. Isn’t Consumerist about the customer gettine what he/she wants?

  16. To clarify some, who is to say that this GPS use will not be used for diabolic purposes? Sorry to sound like a tin-foil hat guy, but we’ve been betrayed in the past (re: AT&T). I doubt the gov’t cares $.02 about me personally. But this technology gives the power to follow the movements of large swaths of the population. hello…wakeup

  17. EtherealStrife says:

    Must…resist…urge…to…condemn…contractwhores…

  18. chili_dog says:

    There’s the old standby that one doesn’t have to HAVE a cell phone. Don;t like the GPS policy, go use a pay phone.

  19. dewrock says:

    @Alvis: Well then she doesn’t get a cell phone, since it’s not up to her or the wireless providers. Sometimes I don’t want to pay my bills but I have to cause that’s the rules.

  20. Esquire99 says:

    To those of you who claim this is Verizon’s problem and not his. Since he is out of contract, they have every right to terminate his service. Why should they suffer (fines, etc) because some jackass is still living in 1999. If the OP doesn’t want to comply with their network policies and requirements, I suppose it’s time to find a new cell phone carrier. They are simply making the decision for him.

  21. Buran says:

    Port your number to a GSM carrier where you can take your pick of any phone you want as long as it’s GSM — unlike CDMA-based carriers, you get to put your SIM card in any phone you want instead of having to have your phone activated by the carrier, thus giving them the ability to dictate the phone you have or are allowed to use.

    Maybe you can find an older GSM phone that you like.

    You can even get month-to-month service and bring your own phone.

    That is, unless you’re unlucky like I used to be and are stuck with a hearing and that isn’t GSM compatible. I’m very glad I switched to one that is shielded against the interference that GSM radios produce.

  22. Antediluvian says:

    There might be another option:
    Verizon is pretty good about letting you change your equipment online. That is, you can activate a “new” phone through their web site — using its EIN info.

    You might be able to do this — I DON’T KNOW IF IT WILL WORK —
    Get a new phone (ask a friend for an old Verizon phone — you only need to borrow it for a little while) and activate that (actually, I know that part will work, I’ve done it several times). You could activate online, by phone, or in a store, doesn’t matter.

    After they verify your account is working and it’s all good to go, re-activate your old phone using the online form and your EIN data.

    The catch is they will almost certainly tell you the same thing, again, but not be very nice about it. But if you really want to try, that’s a possible way to do it.

    Or just get an iPhone. They’re cheaper now. :-) Tell Verizon you think they suck and are moving to AT&T.

  23. Buran says:

    @bradg33: While the rest of your post makes sense … there’s no need to call the OP a jackass. There are a lot of people out there with old phones that are perfectly adequate for them. You callin’ my mom a jackass?

  24. informer says:

    Verizon should use some of the money from that E911 fee they have been collecting for how many years and just give him a new phone.

  25. dbeahn says:

    @bradg33: Oh yes, it makes PERFECT sense to tell a loyal customer that completed his contract and stayed a customer anyway that you don’t want his business because he doesn’t have a contract.

    Technically your post is correct, but given how important churn is to cell providers (and the stock prices of cell providers) it makes poor business sense.

  26. stopNgoBeau says:

    I don’t see anywhere on the OP that she said she didn’t want a new GPS phone. It just said she thought the CSR was trying to sell her one and get her into a new two year contract. If she doesn’t mind the GPS (and my GPS enabled cell phone has a GPS-off feature, a Verizon Razr) she can find one for cheap on the internet and upgrade to it. You can disable the E911 and move to “traditional” 911 using the menu in the cell phone.

    This way, she keeps her current plan, doesn’t get into a new contract, and will pay minimal for a cell phone that will meet Verizon’s standard.

  27. mattbrown says:

    George!


    not sure if this answer has been given:

    You obviously don’t care about having the latest and greated phone. buy a phone off of ebay, and SWITCH THE ESN. This will allow you to use their service but NOT start a contract. Do it online at http://www.verizonwireless.com.

    I just bought a Motorola v65s off ebay and switch between that and my Treo 700w frequently.

    Check out http://www.howardforums.com for more detailed instructions and post questions. People there are helpful.

  28. darkclawsofchaos says:

    @ ANTEDILUVIAN

    I’ll do you one better, get that old Verizon cellphone from that buddy with the GPS, activate it with your sim card and fill out the forms. Then put the sim card back into your old phone without saying anything. Its kinda like fraud, but your method might not go so far without fraud, so the risk of getting caught is extremely low but theres always that small chance.

  29. Employees Must Wash Hands says:

    @darkclawsofchaos:

    Verizon is a CDMA network. There is no SIM.


    I can see why the person doesn’t want to give up the phone. I had a similar model myself with Verizon six or seven years ago and it was a nice solid little phone.

  30. Antediluvian says:

    @darkclawsofchaos:
    [blackadder]
    A very cunning plan indeed.
    Except for one minor detail, Baldrick.

    [/blackadder]

    Verizon doesn’t use SIM cards. They’re CDMA phones, not GSM phones.

    It’s not that the suggestion I offered is fraud — nor would there be any in your plan either (were it possible to use SIM card -enabled phones on Verizon’s network) — it’s just that Verizon might say we already warned you once and you blew it, and take away George’s account & number.

  31. Ickypoopy says:

    @Antediluvian:
    This will not work.

    I used to do customer service for Verizon (outsourced) back in 2003/4. While I was there, they put a block in the system to prevent you from activating any phone that doesnt support the E911 GPS. You cannot do it online, resellers cannot do it, and customer service cannot do it. The system rejects it.

  32. Antediluvian says:

    @Ickypoopy: I thought that might be the case. I wasn’t sure how much info the EIN provides or whether there’s a database they check against for features.

    I just couldn’t test my theory because I dumped my Verizon service for AT&T and an iPhone. :-)

  33. crispyjones says:

    I had a particular model Audiovox phone that was installed in all of our fleet vehicles. The handset was nothing special, but the hands-free kit was incredible. Coffee spilling moron phone in backwards monkey proof, a fleet supervisor’s (me) dream. When the (non-gps) handsets started dying, I found out that Verizon WILL NOT bend on this one, and I actually had a rather helpful business account rep at the time. Ended up installing all new handsets and hands-free kits.

    Oh and analog cell phone (AMPS) service is being shutdown in February. The year after you can look forward to your antenna sourced TV’s to stop functioning when analog TV broadcasts shutdown in favor of ATSC.

  34. Trai_Dep says:

    @Petrarch1603: yeah, I remember the Snopes-esque white pregnant lady locked in the truck of her own car by black (and Latino!) carjackers they trotted out to terrify Joe Citizen into pushing for this “service”.

    Wanna bet it’s the NSA and other three-letter agencies (illegally) spying on innocent citizens that are the ones really pushing this?

    Somehow, civilization managed to survive without being on the grid, locatable to within 20′ by the gov’t. Think ours could survive too. Sure is handy for our internal security forces, though, isn’t it?

    Hey, any hacker-types know how to nuke GSM permanently on the new phones? Smash a chip or something?

  35. JustAGuy2 says:

    @trai_dep:

    Nuke GSM permanently? Or do you mean GPS?

  36. MercuryPDX says:

    @chili_dog: Yes, use pay phones instead! Now if you can only find one…

    Like 8-track tapes and records, times and trends change with technology. Cell phones are killing the pay phone industry.

    At least you get to keep the number you’ve been lugging around on that phone for the past 6 years.

  37. pkchukiss says:

    Well, there’s a misunderstanding about GPS technology. First, the satellites cannot track your phones even if the latter are GPS-enabled. What the satellites do is to transmit a signal continuously. Your phone receives the signals from a few satellites, and calculate your current position based on that.

    Now, the real danger to privacy may be if your phone is programmed to upload this information via the cell phone network.

    Then again, your phone needs to transmit data to the cell phone network in order to work (i.e. make calls), so you can’t have it safer with an ordinary phone versus a GPS phone. If you don’t want to be traced, you wouldn’t want to have a cell phone. It is traceable.

  38. Trai_Dep says:

    @JustAGuy2: Sorry. GPS. Is there any way to disable GPS in the new phones, preferably w/o resorting to soldering irons.

  39. zolielo says:

    @trai_dep: Pull the battery(ies) out if you do not want to be tracked – though no incoming calls is the trade off.

    If you want to turn off GPS (the 2nd GPS unit in a phone is the one you are after – there generally are two per phone) you can change the IP address to something nonsensical. That is semi permanent for various reasons.

    The true permanent method would be to take out the chip – de-pin or de-solder. But I bet the telco is not going to like it if they find out.

  40. Jay Levitt says:

    The other sad part of the story is that, at least last I looked, very few localities actually had the equipment to *receive* the E911 info. Here in Boston, cell calls still go to the staties who then have to refer you to the appropriate local police.

  41. valthun says:

    The way I see it is, Verizon needs to stay within the law, whether they really want to or not. In the cases mentioned though, Verizon should offer the discount phone without the user being required to sign a contract, since they are unable to keep that handset on. However using “verizon cell phone” will net many compatible phones for the cheap, and you can just activate that new phone to your current number.

  42. JustAGuy2 says:

    This one really isn’t Verizon’s fault. They didn’t want to implement E911 (it’s cost them quite a bit of money), but the FCC made them do so, and is now going to fine them if they don’t get people like George off non-GPS phones.

  43. bonzombiekitty says:

    @Jay Levitt:
    Disclaimer: I work for a company that does networked based cell phone location solutions for some other cellphone networks in the US. I am not making the following statements as an official representative of the company I work for. I am fairly low on the totem pole of the corporate hierarchy. If you manage to figure out what company I work for, do not take my comments as any sort of absolute truth as my comments are as I understand things to be. I could be wrong about one or more things.

    I’m assuming that’s for Verizon. I’m pretty sure we cover the Boston area (there’s a big map of MA with our accuracy on it down the hall – most of it in our the surveyed area is red or purple, which is high accuracy). No cell phone company should be THAT bad when it comes to routing 911 calls. At the very least, they know the cell phone tower the call is being serviced at, and should be able to route the call to the 911 center that tower is served by (basic phase I e911 stuff).

    Nice to see that the FCC is pushing the fines. We’ve been complaining about it for a long time, because well, more fines means more focus on location solutions, means more business for my company :). It’s not just Verizon that is failing to meet the requirements, other major companies are as well. Not for lack of technology.

    The problem is that neither a network or handset based solution work perfectly well. Handset based solutions rely on GPS, which doesn’t work indoors and works poorly in areas without a clear view of the sky (i.e. dense urban areas). Network based solutions work indoors and work very well in dense urban areas. But the accuracy drops significantly in rural areas.

    Those that are worried about GPS – if the government really wanted to track you, they would have required network based solutions, where the location can be performed entirely passively and as long as you have your phone on, you can be located.

  44. beyond says:

    @Yankees368: I would go prepaid before I signed a cellphone contract. No thanks!

  45. jamar0303 says:

    @beyond: Problem is that in the States, prepaid customers are treated as second-class. Try to get a decent data package on a prepaid plan. Not really happening. I really feel that the US should learn from China on this one- prepaid customers should be treated the same as postpaid customers, and given the same extras and service packages.

  46. B says:

    It sucks that you’re forced to buy a new phone, but it could save your life of the life of a loved one. How is that not worth it?

  47. Thud says:

    @nullstrike… Won’t work. Even if you “turn off” GPS in your phone, that just turns off location for certain purposes. It will still calculate your location and transmit that if you call 911.

    @bonzombiekitty… “more fines means more focus on location solutions, means more business for my company.” Sadly, that appears to be the way that public policy was set — notwithstanding the science, the vendors of location-based technology pushed higher accuracy for commercial reasons. And, “not for lack of technology?” BS. GPS is limited by satellite views. Network based is constrained by a lack of cell towers in the majority of the geographic area of the county, and the fact that there are limitations, dictated by physics, due to the bandwidth of the sync signals used for TDOA, and that bandwidth isn’t available from GSM systems.

    I’ll also bet you dollars to donuts that the reason 911 is routed to staties in Boston isn’t because of a carrier problem, but more likely due to the requests of local authorities. Quite possible that only the staties have the software to handle location.

  48. bonzombiekitty says:

    @Thud: “BS. GPS is limited by satellite views. Network based is constrained by a lack of cell towers in the majority of the geographic area of the county, and the fact that there are limitations, dictated by physics, due to the bandwidth of the sync signals used for TDOA, and that bandwidth isn’t available from GSM systems.”

    But you are ignoring combined systems, which is supposedly what various companies are starting to investigate. Plus additional technology like AOA (angle of arrival). Expensive? Yes. But combine GPS and UTDOA and you have a system that can locate you in most instances. And my company has no problem performing accurate locations for GSM signals, we’ve been doing it for a while now. My understanding of how our system works, there is no signals being sent to the device for synchronization, it’s all passive. It works roughly like this:

    -Location request received and sent to towers.
    -Equipment listens for signals coming from the specific cellphone – records it if received and the time it got it at.
    -Information is sent to a server that compares the signals that have been recorded at the different towers and performs a TDOA location off of it. Additional calculations are made to take into account things like terrain.

    I’m not aware of any limits on our system in regards to bandwidth on the signal between the tower and the cell phone. As far as I’m aware we don’t care all that much about it (granted, we need to know how to pick out the correct signal). Our bottleneck is in our own system.

  49. bonzombiekitty says:

    Just to edit my first post – I misread what Jay said, I thought he said “states” – meaning that it goes to wherever the phone was registered (based off the area code and such). So yeah, directing to the state police makes a bit more sense. But theoretically, it should work the same as dialing 911 on a land line.

  50. kc2idf says:

    @nullstrike:

    Whats kinda sad is the handset solution is not even worth the trouble as many people turn off the GPS feature of the phone anyways.

    Dialing 911 will turn the feature back on as soon as you hit send. When you finish the call, it will remain on until you turn it back off.

    Unfortunatly its mostly criminals that turn them off as to not be tracked as easely

    Ah. So what you are saying is that if I am not doing anything wrong, then I should not hide? I bet you use envelopes to send mail. What are you hiding?

  51. bohemian says:

    Possible options.
    He could call Verizon and ask them to give him a free phone since they want him to upgrade so bad. He could threaten to leave for another provider. They may play ball or they may require he get at least a year contract or two year to get said free phone. Verizon has some really nice free phones right now.

    He could buy a newer Verizon capable phone off ebay. It would be fairly cheap and he would not be stuck in a contract that way.

    He could also ask on his local freecycle group for a newer Verizon phone. People ask and get newer used phones all the time through our local list. People change providers or get their new contract tied phone every two years and have newer old ones laying around. We have two newer (less than three years old) Verizon phones sitting in a drawer. The only reason I have not given them away is they are our back up in case one of the new ones gets destroyed or lost.

  52. bonzombiekitty says:

    Also to edit my first and second post some to make myself clear rather than get sidetracked off of the point I was originally trying to make. When I said “Not for lack of technology” I was more referring to the ability of network based services (specifically my company’s) to perform a location under normal circumstances. It’s not so much the technology that is failing to give accurate locations, rather the lack of proper equipment – much like the issue with Verizon getting rid of non-GPS phones. I thought my points on the limitations of GPS and network based locations made that clear.

  53. FLConsumer says:

    @nullstrike: Not really… If you dial 911, just about every phone I’ve seen will turn the GPS feature back on.

  54. goodguy812 says:

    it sounds like verizon chose a method that would intentionally boost sales and contracts. but if you haven’t bought anything else from them, nor signed a contract for a couple of years or more, don’t expect them to do anything for you, as you are not what i would call a “valued customer”. they probably won’t miss out on much should you go elsewhere.

  55. bonzombiekitty says:

    @goodguy812: Actually story is they were poised to contract with my company’s system. As the story goes, we had champagne out and everything, all ready to celebrate our first big contract. All that needed to be done was have the contract signed. Guy shows up at the celebration party but instead of having the contract in hand, he has news that Verizon bailed out. Supposedly one of the sales guys did something fishy and Verizon found out and got pissed, said sales guy was fired. Not long after, Verizon went with the hand held based service because it was cheaper for them to implement – it puts hardware requirements more on the cell phone manufacturers rather than Verizon.

  56. dewrock says:

    @goodguy812: Is this comment really fair? It’s not like Verizon just decided to to do this overnight…it’s something that they’ve been implementing over quite some time. The guy/girl’s phone is 6 years old, it’s not like they just allowed him/her to buy it and activate.

  57. supra606 says:

    @Petrarch1603:
    Agreed. To the people that say it could save my life, I say two things. One, maybe so, but that is fairly highly unlikely. Two, I’m a big boy and I assume full responsibility for taking care of myself. If I have to choose between having them help me if I’m in serious trouble and knowing where I am whenever they want to or them not helping me when I’m in serious trouble and not knowing where I am whenever they want to, I will choose the latter.

  58. Trai_Dep says:

    Yup. Totally. The number of scenarios which people are totally isolated from passersby, AND unaware of their location AND unable to find out AND needing rapid emergency service? It approaches Urban Legend rarity.

    More inane, nanny-state, gov’t-forcing-you-to-needlessly-spend-money, feelgood legislation.

  59. killavanilla says:

    I don’t have time to read what others have said, so I’ll offer this:
    switch carriers, take advantage of the better rates and new features on what will be a free phone if you sign up for a two year deal.
    OR
    find a company that will offer you a free phone with a one year deal.
    Better yet, head over to Amazon and take advantage of their awesome rebates to get a new phone and plan.

  60. ganzhimself says:

    Excuse me if this has already been brought up, but doesn’t Verizon have a pre-paid service? From what I understand, even with CDMA providers you can activate the pre-paid phone to use the regular service. The guy could just go out and get the cheapest pre-paid they have then get it activated for his service. Or, he could just do the obvious and buy one of the hundreds, or thousands of used Verizon phones off of eBay.

  61. brettbee says:

    @TRAI_DEP:
    I’m often unaware of my location. As I travel Route 1 in NJ, I don’t necessarily know when I cross from South Brunswick into North Brunswick, into New Brunswick, etc.

    One clear, weekday afternoon, I exited the NJ Turnpike at 15W and merged onto the road heading for Harrison on my way to Kearny. A car coming the other way turned sideways, flipped, and rolled. There was a Jersey barrier separating us, thankfully. I didn’t know whether we were in Harrison or Kearny. It turned out it was Kearny, but the regional dispatch center couldn’t tell me where I was. Apparently no E911 and the dispatcher had no familiarity with the area so “I just got off of the Turnpike at 15W and took the first right after the toll plaza and am on the road that leads to Harrison but I think it might be Kearny” meant nothing to him.

    And one passerby is can be better than multiple passers-by; when there’s more than one, the assumption that somebody else called it in can lead to no one calling it in.

  62. Sidecutter says:

    @nullstrike: Turning off GPS will prevent casual location checking by anyone other than E911. it will not prevent 911 from seeing where you are. Turning off GPS does not, therefore, make the entire system useless to have put in place.

  63. MrEvil says:

    Fortunately for us, GPS does not work like it does in the movies. For your phone to be able to transmit GPS data it would have to be outdoors with a clear view of the sky. a car roof will block it. Also, the phone can only transmit the data during a call. Big Brother can’t poll your idle phone and obtain the data that way. Also, because the location data isn’t stored. The only thing the Feds can subpoena is what cell tower a call was patched through.

    Actually, there’s a method of keeping the phone completely off the grid without removing the batteries or powering it off. Simply toss it in an ESD bag that computer parts come in. The bag acts as a faraday cage blocking any EM energy on the outside and containing any EM energy within. Like the battery removal, you won’t receive any incoming calls. However you can’t be tracked either :p

  64. LionelEHutz says:

    So, you mean to tell us that we can’t use one of those old brick style portable phones anymore?

  65. bonzombiekitty says:

    @Mr3vil:

    “Also, the phone can only transmit the data during a call. Big Brother can’t poll your idle phone and obtain the data that way.”

    Yes it can. It’s not done at the moment, since we only perform a location on a 911 call, but it is possible. As long as the phone is on, there’s at least some sort of communication going on. And there’s always null SMS messages.

  66. Framling says:

    If I have to turn in my StarTAC because of this, I’m going to be pissed.

  67. djxspike says:

    Couldn’t he just buy a new GPS-capable one on eBay?

  68. wring says:

    they’re supposed to give him a new one for free. then again that means getting into a contract.

  69. aka Cat says:

    I’m really disappointed that, when I fell off my scooter in the middle of nowhere and failed to bleed to death, AAA couldn’t get my location from my cell phone.

    I had to ask a motorist (who’d stopped to ask if I needed help) to drive to the nearest mailbox and call me back with the address.

  70. floofy says:

    I bet this guy is on a $19.95 rate plan which is probably one of the reasons they aren’t offering him anything special. The carrier I work for sent some people letters offering free phones without a contract after mailing them multiple (ignored) letters to get out of their non 911 phones.

  71. Thud says:

    @bonzombiekitty: As I understand it, mean square error for time difference in received radio signals is inversely proportional to bandwidth.

    Also, Verizon uses CDMA. At the time systems selection was occurring for E911 solutions for US carriers, CDMA did not have a global system clock, GSM did. Global system timing is critical for TDOA. No way any CDMA carrier at that time could have picked a network solution.

    I agree that a combined system may lead to better accuracy. But, you still need line of site to three carrier cell sites for network TDOA (assuming you also have some supplemental logic or AOA–3 only narrows it down to two possible locations where the TD parabolas intersect) or LOS to three GPS sats. Even skipping bad multipath problems, I’m not sure that you get significantly more of the country covered by forcing combined solutions.

    So, putting on my best regulator hat:

    Social cost = forcing CDMA carriers to do expensive network upgrades + forcing GSM carriers to churn out all handsets and force uptake of GPS equipped handsets (both sets of costs ultimately borne by subscribers)

    Social benefit = marginally better location accuracy in some areas.

    It may benefit your company. I don’t calculate that it benefits me.

  72. bonzombiekitty says:

    @Thud: I’m not sure about the very low level technicalities of it. But I know for a fact we don’t have a problem performing accurate GSM TDMA locations. I have data files of GSM TDOA and GSM AOA location data sitting on my laptop right now (I make programs that simulate our equipment for the test group).

    As for global clocking of CDMA, as far as I know we rely on our own system to do the time of arrival. We have always had a GPS in our equipment that grabs the time – so we don’t rely on any sort of timing off of the network. IIRC, we’ve tested TDOA CDMA long ago (since we were originally supposed to contract with Verizon) and got it to work.

    I’m not arguing whether or not it’s worth it to force all the carriers to upgrade to both location service types. Just that it’s possible to give fairly accurate locations in the majority of coverage areas.

    Personally, I think that a demand for non-911 locations for other location services is going to crop up and become increasingly more popular. In the end it might just happen anyways.

  73. jnachod says:

    If they want to track you all they have to do is issue an over-the-air software update to your phone without your knowledge:

    [news.com.com]

    Also, its not enough to turn off the gps feature in your phone. On some phones, when calling 911 this feature is temporarily activated even if it is set to off – much the same way that blocking your caller id doesn’t really work with 911.

  74. Brad2723 says:

    Time to play the EECB card. Tell the CEO how much of a loyal customer you have been and will accept their offer of a new phone at the discount price but without the contract commitment.

    Tell them that you are happy with the service and quality of product they have provided so far, but since they are insisting on placing you into a contract, you’re going to shop around and see what their competition has to offer.

  75. nullstrike says:

    Actually people in university I know have tested that theory that dialing 911 will turn it on, and in all their case studies with the help of local law enforcement here, the phones did not turn on the gps system and the 911 operator was unable to determine the location of the handset. However I do agree that the cell provider can push a silent update, but for law enforcement that would require time and a warrant. Wich for 911 purposes could prove to be too late. what they need to do is make it so people cannot turn off the gps function at all.