National roaming for 999/112 emergency calls from your mobile?

This week’s article from SMS Text News, looking at the 999/112 emergency number service.

Jonathan Jensen on Thursday – National roaming for 999/112 emergency calls from your mobile?

Back in 1991 the EU mandated 112 as a pan European emergency service number and since then its availability has spread across Europe so that now only Bulgaria, among EU countries, has yet to implement it. The idea behind 112 is that it operates alongside existing national emergency numbers and provides a single, easily recognisable, number that travellers can use anywhere. The EU is keen to raise awareness of 112 and has recently launched a website that sets out its aims and the position in each country. According to EU research, awareness of 112 as a pan Europe emergency number is only 6% in the UK so there’s certainly work to do here, although 96% do recognise it as a UK emergency number, alongside 999. Across Europe, 112 recognition stands at 22%.

One point that caught my eye on the new website is national roaming. In accordance with EU best practice, national roaming has now been implemented in 21 countries, for example France and Germany. What this means is that if there’s no coverage on your own mobile network, you can call 112 on another network that does have coverage. In some countries, including Denmark and Spain you can even call from a handset without a SIM card. National roaming clearly improves mobile availability of access to the emergency services and benefit consumers. However neither has yet been implemented in the UK. Ofcom is keen to see national roaming for 999/112 calls and is working with the mobile networks to achieve this. Because all emergency calls are initially handled by BT and Cable & Wireless they also have to be involved in establishing the process. The overriding consideration for all parties is to ensure that extending the availability of 999/112 via national roaming does not have a detrimental impact on the quality of the overall service, for example in call handling times (where the UK represents best practice with 98.1% of calls answered within 20 seconds) and location data. The mobile operators support the concept of national roaming however there is currently no timescale for implementation. Two issues that have apparently delayed implementation are the availability of location data and systems in place for identifying and rejecting persistent hoax callers; nearly half of all mobile 999 calls are ‘silent’, not made by malicious callers but inadvertently as keypads get pressed in pockets or handbags.

The UK is unlikely to also implement calling from handsets without SIM cards because of the risk of increasing the number of hoax calls. In Sweden 98% of 112 calls from handsets without SIM cards were hoax calls and both France and Germany are in the process of disabling this functionality for the same reason.

I’m going to continue to pursue national roaming with Ofcom because it’s long overdue in the UK and hard to see why implementation should be more difficult than elsewhere.

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