If you do have to call emergency services with only a sketchy idea of where you are, your mobile will soon be able to even more accurately tell authorities your location. Here's the detail you need to know about the rollout of Advanced Mobile Location services in Australia.
It's a commonly held view that if you do call 000 on your mobile – a free call on any network in Australia, even if you're out of mobile credit – that the relevant services will be able to use mobile phone triangulation to pinpoint where you might happen to be.
Australian telcos have worked to improve matters in terms of mobile location in emergency situations in the past, but it's far from perfect.
As the ABC reports, from June if you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of needing the police, ambulance or fire services, they'll be able to get an even closer lock on your position.
That's because from June, emergency services will gain the ability to use advanced mobile location (AML).
What is Advanced Mobile Location?
While the name does rather describe its function, the way that AML works is rather fascinating. It's already in place in a number of countries including New Zealand, Norway and the UK, which is actually where it was developed by a group including British Telecom, EE and HTC.
When the emergency service number in a supporting country is called from a mobile that supports AML (also called ELS, or Emergency Location Service by Google), location services are automatically enabled even if they've been disabled.
Automatically enabling location tracking allows for a location position to be determined by a mix of GPS and WiFi tracking, with the service determining which one is more accurate at the time of the call.
That information is then automatically sent to the emergency services involved by SMS, which means that even if you are in the middle of nowhere – or just unsure of your location or nearby street names – you can be more accurately located. SMS transmission is very light in data terms, so even if you don't have great mobile signal — or where actual voice quality might inhibit your ability to describe your emergency — that data can be sent through.
Once the SMS with your location is sent, AML automatically reverts location services to where they were before the call was made, so if you did have it switched off, it'll be disabled again for you.
Which phones support Advanced Mobile Location?
AML might be new in Australia, but it's a well established standard that's been baked into Android since Android 2.3.7. We're up to Android 10 now, so that gives you an idea of how long it's been part of Google's mobile OS makeup.
Apple was much slower on the takeup of AML – it's almost as if Apple doesn't like other people taking control of its toybox – with AML support only added to iOS since version 11.3.
What that means in effect is that your Android phone almost certainly supports it unless you're rocking an Android phone with more than 10 years on the clock, but some more recent iPhone handsets still in use might not have the capability yet.
Can I switch off Advanced mobile location?
Why would you want to do that? Well, aside from sketchy stereotypical drug dealers who don't want to be tracked, presumably... but no, the whole idea of AML is that you don't need to do anything to enable it, so it's not a feature you can switch off.
Which also means, naturally, that you can't disable it by accident, which is good news for those worried about mistakenly doing so.
My phone won't support AML – what can I do?
If you are using an older iPhone (or a truly ancient Android handset – how is that HTC Hero, anyway?) then you can take a proactive approach to your mobile location data by installing the Emergency+ app which will give you your phone's own reading of your GPS location. It's not likely to be quite as precise, but it's certainly better than nothing.
Does this mean I can't prank call OOO anymore?
Yes it does.
Frankly that's a great thing, because prank calling emergency services is a phenomenally dumb, selfish and irresponsible thing to do in any circumstances.
It's an offence under the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Telecommunications Offences and Other Measures) Act (No. 2) 2004, too, with penalties of up to 3 years imprisonment.
So, y'know, just don't.