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FCC: All U.S. Cell Phones Should Be GPS Beginning In 2019

If you're paranoid about the ability of authorities to find you using your cell phone, you might want to sit down: The FCC will require that cell phone service providers and Voice over the Internet Protocol providers ensure their products meet stricter standards for location accuracy that currently apply to phones with GPS capability. The FCC intends for these standards to be implemented by a date to be determined beginning after 2019. Providers will be able choose either a handset-based system (imbedded GPS type chip), a network-based system, or a hybrid of the two.

Devices that are not GPS-enabled must be tracked via triangulation with local cellular towers, a time consuming process that can only give an approximate location and can dangerously delay critical assistance. The new regulation will allow almost universal pinpoint location of 911 callers by emergency responders. No date was given for when non-GPS enabled devices must be discontinued, but given FCC estimates that by 2018, 75 percent of all mobile devices will be GPS capable, it is likely that the assumption is the sunsetting of obsolete devices will occur naturally as consumers chuck outdated gadgets for shiny new ones. 

There may be interesting legal aspects to the new rule. In addition to increased safety for accident or crime victims, the regulation will affect all mobile phones, including pre-paid phones that don't require users to create accounts. This will make it possible for Law Enforcement agencies to locate people via mobile device regardless of service provider or phone model, and finally bring reality into full CSI/NCIS-compliance.

NOTE: Originally, this post contained two inaccuracies: that the new regulations would begin by 2018, and that phones would be required to contain an embedded GPS chip. The post was corrected based on additional data provided to us by the FCC.