The use of mobile technologies in Public Alerting

This paper aims at describing the state of the art regarding the use of mobile technologies in Public Warning Systems (PWS) and introducing Intersec Alerting Solution.

Context: two dominant technologies for alerting coexist on the market

The huge adoption of mobile phones all over the world is providing a great opportunity for governments to better inform population during emergency situations, by sending a message to all handsets that are in the hazardous zone. In order to do so, several technologies can be used.

In 2006 the European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI) produced a report on mobile-based technologies that became the basis for an emergency messaging service. The report suggested several mobile technologies (Paging, CBS, SMS, TV, MBMS, MMS, USSD, Email, IM Service) and concluded that Cell Broadcast Service (CBS) and Short Message Service (SMS) were among the most suitable technologies for delivering a mobile-driven PWS.

cell broadcast

Cell Broadcast 

Cell Broadcast, the historical and most widespread choice

How CBS became the standard

Further 3GPP & ETSI reports define more precisely the requirements for a PWS. Although they do not specify which technology has to be used, some CBS characteristics make it particularly interesting:

It uses a dedicated channel, allowing the delivery to millions of people in seconds, without being affected by network congestion (and without causing it). On the contrary, SMS use shared signaling channels and network congestion may lead to delays in delivery.

It can be displayed automatically with no user interaction and with a special ringtone, making the CBS message instantly recognizable as an alert (unlike the SMS).

When Japan decided to implement its Earthquake and Tsunami Warning System (ETWS) in 2007 it chose CBS for its delivery speed. This aspect is indeed very important for earthquake warning, where the alert message has to be sent in the short time lapse (a few tens of seconds) between the first non-destructive waves and the real earthquake. The Japanese system was then formalized in 3GPP standards, setting the rule for future implementations.

Several countries have since followed Japan’s example and chosen CBS for their PWS, including Israel, Chile, the USA, Romania, Lithuania, Philippines, New Zealand, South Korea, Peru, Thailand,  United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands.

CBS limitations

However, CBS has one main limitation: it is not supported by all handsets and even when it is supported it requires a manual configuration from the user.

This means that it does not reach everybody. During a test conducted in the Netherlands in November 2013 many people complained on Twitter that they did not receive the message .

This was supposed to be a temporary issue but cell broadcast penetration among handsets proved to be slower than expected. As of today it is still unclear how many years will be needed before all handsets can receive CBS messages. Based on Homeland Security study on WEA mobile penetration , we can assume that from the time a country decides to implement CBS alerts, 5 to 10 years will be needed before a large percentage of the population (more than 90%) have a compatible device.

Moreover, the need for a manual configuration remains an issue, as a lot of people are still not familiar with the procedure, which can further postpone the date at which 90% of the population will actually receive the alerts.

SMS, historically second-best choice, has recently been chosen by several countries

For that reason and following recent technology improvements more and more countries are considering geo-targeted SMS as a viable option for mass-alerting. And that is how SMS, despite its limitations, is coming back on stage, maximizing the reach of the alerting campaign as all handsets natively support SMS, without requiring any configuration.

Australia was the first country to make this choice, in 2009, and today claims a rate of 93% of successful SMS delivery . SMS systems have also been deployed in Norway and Belgium, and a trial in the UK in 2013 concluded that location-based SMS was the preferred solution over CBS.

SMS overcame CBS

SMS overcame CBS 

In addition to solving the reach issue, SMS offers several advantages, such as:

  • It is less expensive and quicker to implement, as much of the infrastructure is already in place,
  • It gives a proof of delivery, insuring governments and MNOs against all liability in case of accidents,
  • It unlocks the possibility to personalize the message (e.g. the language) on a per-user basis.

However, SMS keeps the aforementioned limitations:

  • Network congestion may lead to delays in delivery,
  • A standard SMS may not be identified immediately as urgent

CBS-SMS comparative analysis: what to keep in mind

The following table summarizes the main advantages and drawbacks of the two technologies:

geo-targeted sms vs cbs

Geo-targeted sms vs CBS 

CBS and SMS are often considered as rival technologies for PWS. However, a closer look at their ad-vantages and drawbacks reveals some complementarities, meaning that using them together will solve most issues that each technology faces when used alone.

Intersec approach: combine CBS and SMS to maximize both reach and delivery speed of PWS

Intersec approach can be summarized in two key points:

  • Combine CBS and SMS channels to maximize both reach and delivery speed with advanced network congestion prevention mechanisms
  • Take advantage of our unique geofencing technology, which is both real-time and mass-scale, for advanced population movement monitoring and increased efficiency in crisis management.
    Intersec has a proven track of records for Cell Broadcast and Igloo technologies in about 15 countries covering several hundred million people. Major deployments include various affiliates in Orange Group, Weve (joint venture of EE, O2 and Vodafone in the UK) and Telefonica Group in Europe and Latin America.

Maximizing reach & time to inform everybody effectively

Intersec multi-channel approach allows to maximize both reach and delivery speed by:

  • Using CBS to inform CB activated handsets rapidly. Intersec CBS is particularly relevant in a context of PWS: it is network agnostic (2G/3G/4G), PWS standards compliant (CAP/ATIS), and includes smart network congestion mechanisms.
  • Sending SMS as a complement: first to people with a non CB compatible device and then to CB compatible devices in case CB was not configured or activated.

Moreover, Intersec solution uses real-time monitoring of subscribers density and statistics of successful delivery reports to optimize delivery timeline and which areas get alerted first. This way the delivery can benefit from the additional word of mouth effect, accelerating efficiently the spread of the alerting.

Maximizing successfulness of SMS delivery

Network congestion may cause delay in SMS delivery during emergency situations. Intersec solution implements several features designed to minimize this effect, such as:

sms delivery

  • Using our Plateforme as a cache to offload network elements such as HLR,
  • Leveraging on subscriber connection state to maximize First Delivery Attempt success,
  • Prioritizing the SMS alerting traffic over the user P2P traffic,
  • Using real-time monitoring of RAN / core network nodes load information to ensure SMS delivery across congested networks.

Increasing campaign effectiveness

GeoSafe offers two unique capabilities that allow increasing the effectiveness of an alerting campaign:
The ability to manage lists of people, to know who has been alerted,
A mass-scale real-time view over the location of all subscribers on the network.

These features increase crisis management efficiency by:

  • Sending personalized messages in the language of the subscriber,
  • Optimizing the evacuation plan by sending appropriate directions to different groups of population in the same area,
  • Monitoring the effects of the campaign in real-time (using heat maps and statistics about population movements) to adapt quickly to changing circumstances.

It also allows to communicate with the alerted population after the crisis even if they have left the area, which was identified as a key issue by Francis Markus – East Asia spokesperson for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) – who commented after the Fukushima event in Japan that “the conditions faced by those displaced were made worse by them not knowing when they can return.”
Intersec provides a consolidated future proof solution, which:

  • Is 100% telco grade, highly performant and supports virtualization,
  • Maximizes the reach towards the population,
  • Integrates unique and compelling functionalities for PWS for increased crisis management and population safety.


Cell Broadcast-Based Public Warning Systems – An Effective Solution for Emergency Alerts

BELLEVUE, Wash. – July 24, 2018 – Cell broadcast-based Public Warning Systems (PWS) is currently the most effective technical solution for large group emergency notifications above other alerting methods in the Americas according to a new report from 5G Americas, the industry trade association and voice of 5G and LTE for the Americas. 5G Americas announced their publication of Public Warning Systems in the Americas whitepaper that elaborates on the benefits of cell broadcast-based Public Warning Systems that have been specified by the Third Generation Partnership Program (3GPP) and standardized by multiple Standards Development Organizations throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

The paper by 5G Americas confirms that it is more beneficial for the general public to use cell broadcast-based PWS as opposed to point-to-point alerting methods such as Short Message Service (SMS) and Over-the-Top (OTT) applications to provide wireless emergency alerts. Cell broadcast-based emergency alert communication has advantages over for point-to-point methods including:

  • There are typically no significant delivery delays when attempting to deliver messages to a large number of recipients in a short period of time due to the underlying broadcast technology
  • There is no cell broadcast subscription required for receiving emergency alerts via cell broadcast technology
  • Messages are broadcast to all devices within a specific alert area, so if a user roams into a cell site in an alert area, the user will receive the alert
  • Smartphone subscribers do not require a data services subscription with their wireless operator in order for their device to receive an emergency alert via cell broadcast

Chris Pearson, President, 5G Americas commented, “Successful emergency warning communications systems are essential in today’s society when the impact of monumental disasters can be lessened by proper advance notification to people. Several countries in the Americas region have deployed and are actively working towards developing cell broadcast-based public warning systems, built upon the industry-wide 3GPP standards, which offers the best technical option for providing a safety net in the event of emergencies.”

Key challenges for SMS and OTT smartphone applications in providing emergency alerts include: possible delivery delays when attempting to provide messages to a large number of recipients in a short period of time; alerts are addressed to phone numbers in a chosen cell site area rather than users in the cell site alert area meaning not all users will receive alerts; SMS could possibly be spoofed by hackers; smartphone users must have a data service subscriptions to receive alert notifications via the cellular network on smartphone apps. Cell broadcast-based systems are effective in most all the challenged areas for SMS and OTT apps meaning any user in the geo-targeted area will typically be able to receive the alert.

“There is a tremendous benefit for countries to deploy the cell broadcast-based warning system so that any user can roam to any country and be able to receive wireless emergency alerts in a time-sensitive manner,” noted Jose Otero, Director of Latin America and the Caribbean, 5G Americas and also the author of this paper. “There remain some challenges to overcome in order to promote seamless international roaming such as the use of different applications in countries, different languages, and even the use of different ringtones, alert banners and character sets.”

The goal of the 5G Americas whitepaper is to inform and educate vendors, operators and regulatory authorities of the benefits associated with the cell broadcast-based system, explain and compare PWS and other alert systems in the Americas and describe the international roaming support for PWS. The paper will provide an understanding of varied emergency alert systems currently in use throughout the Americas, including details on emergency alert systems in many countries in the Caribbean and Latin America as well as Canada and the U.S.

Public Warning Systems in the Americas was written by a working group at 5G Americas under the leadership of Orlett Pearson of Nokia and Peter Musgrove of AT&T as well as representatives from member companies of 5G Americas who participated in the development of this whitepaper. Public Warning Systems in the Americas is available for free download on the 5G Americas website.