June 18, 2004 7:47 AM PDT

Verizon 'very close' to 911 glitch fix

Verizon Wireless is "very close" to fixing a problem that has garbled some cellular calls made to 911, the company said Friday.

The bug, which affects Verizon phones with Global Positioning System (GPS) technology from Qualcomm, fills some 911 calls with static or causes every other word to be dropped. A handful of emergency call centers brought the problem to the company's attention a few weeks ago and are taking appropriate measures, a Verizon Wireless representative said.

Verizon, the largest U.S. wireless carrier and a joint venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone, said it has been working on a fix with chipmaker Qualcomm. The companies said they believe a handful of GPS-equipped phones are devoting too much processing time trying to connect to GPS satellites. The chipsets in the phones work with the satellites and with network software to indicate a caller's location.

Qualcomm did not return calls for comment on Thursday.

Sprint suffered similar GPS-related transmission problems with emergency calls last year, involving the same Qualcomm chips. In response, the fourth-largest U.S. cell phone carrier made several changes, including reducing the length of time that its GPS-phones automatically search for a satellite connection after being turned on.

Both Verizon and Sprint were in the midst of upgrading to a more accurate assisted-GPS system at the time of their initial troubles.

Handset makers Nokia, Motorola and Kyocera Wireless, all of which supply either Verizon or Sprint with GPS phones, said they were unaware of the bug and had no immediate comment.

All U.S. cellular carriers are required to pinpoint the location of a phone dialing 911. The top six have created commercial location services, like Friend Finder, to offset the cost of adding enhanced 911.

"This is a new technology for us," Sprint spokesman Dan Wilinsky said.

 

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