The rollout of a technology used by emergency services to more accurately pinpoint where people are when they call Triple Zero from a smartphone has finally been completed in Australia, eight months after it began rolling out and several years after the technology first became available.
Called Advanced Mobile Location (AML), the technology, first developed in 2014, allows all users with an upgraded Android or iPhone handset to automatically send their phone’s geolocation coordinates via SMS when a call to Triple Zero is made. Australia’s closest neighbour New Zealand went live with the technology in May 2017 in a rollout that took about four months.
However, the rollout of the technology in Australia has taken much longer, with it first noted in a June 2017 press release from then-communications minister Mitch Fifield, who said that AML would be used for Triple Zero mobile location and that the government would “shortly issue” tender documents related to the initiative.
Ongoing delays since then, as noted by an ABC investigation into it last year, prompted the Communications Minister Paul Fletcher to write to Telstra, which operates it for about $20 million a year, seeking an explanation. Later, Telstra CEO Andy Penn said at the National Press Club in July 2019 that “there is no delay in the rollout”.
According to the Department of Home Affairs, AML is capable of providing a caller’s location within a 5-metre radius outdoors and a 25-metre radius indoors. Based on deployments of AML in other countries, most calls (about 85 per cent) will provide location accuracy within 50 metres.
The Communications Department announced AML was being deployed for the emergency call service, on December 16 last year. On December 17, the NSW government said it had gone live in the state.
Soon after it began being rolled out, the technology helped emergency services in South Australia locate two kayakers on December 31 who were caught in strong winds three kilometres offshore, eliminating the need for an expensive air and sea search.
“Saving lives is the number one priority for our police and emergency services. This technology further enhances the capability of SAPOL to respond to emergency situations quickly and precisely,” SA Police Minister Vincent Tarzia said at the time.
“SAPOL Water Operations officers had clear-cut information to work from, allowing them to locate the kayakers quickly and return them home without injury.”
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher encouraged Australians to upgrade their Android or iPhone handsets with the latest software update to activate AML.
“Time is critical when you are in a life or death situation—that is why Advanced Mobile Location technology is so important,” he said on Wednesday. “It allows Triple Zero to send you help as quickly as possible.”
British Telecom, EE Limited, and HTC developed AML in the UK in 2014 as a solution to problematic caller location in emergencies, finding it was up to 4,000 times more accurate than existing system used.
In Australia, Triple Zero receives up to 27,000 calls nationally each day, and about 78 per cent of these calls originate from a mobile phone.
Home Affairs says AML lies dormant on a smartphone until an emergency number is dialled. Location functionality (GPS or Wi-Fi etc) will respect the user’s privacy settings until an emergency call is made and will revert back to the user’s privacy choices afterwards.
“The operating system provider (Apple or Google) does not receive any AML data; the user’s device simply passes it through the mobile network operator to Triple Zero. The SMS message containing the location information is not retained on the telephone after it is sent,” the Home Affairs department says in an FAQ.
AML will work automatically with Android phones version 4.1 or higher with Google Play Services installed. Meanwhile, iPhone users will need to ensure their devices are running iOS14.3 or later in order to have access to this service.
Every call to Triple Zero will continue to provide the following information to emergency services, whether or not AML information is available:
- the service address as supplied by the caller to their provider
- Push Mobile Location Information (Push MoLI) – based on mobile cell tower coverage
- Standardised Mobile Service Area (SMSA) – a large geographic region showing indicative location (shows areas larger than Push MoLI)
The Emergency+ app can also be used to provide coordinates to emergency services.
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