Reporter

Nancy Amons is an award-winning member of the News4 Investigates team. She has been breaking stories in Middle Tennessee for more than 20 years.

NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - If you call 911 from a cell phone, can first responders find you?

Nashville is one of several cities that has added a new technology to pinpoint a caller’s location.

Our News 4 I-Team investigation found that our tests showed it doesn't work with Sprint.

Investigative reporter Nancy Amons did another round of testing and also found problems with two other popular plans, each with millions of customers.

The News 4 I-Team has been testing a new system called RapidSOS that's being adopted in 911 centers across the country.

RapidSOS uses the GPS in your mobile phone the same way Uber and Lyft find you. It's more accurate than the old system of pinging a cell phone tower.

But our News4 investigation found the new system doesn't work with all carriers; we discovered it doesn’t work with Sprint unless the caller is connected to a WiFi network.

The I-Team decided to test some other carriers with the help of Michael Batemen, 911’s technology expert.

We tested a Samsung Android phone on the TracFone network. It didn’t work.

The older system pinged the TracFone and found an approximate location, but RapidSOS showed nothing.

"The RapidSOS is not working, no."

"So we found another problem?" News 4’s Nancy Amons asked Bateman.

“Potentially. We'll have to ask RapidSOS about TracFones," Bateman said.

TracFone reports it has nearly 22 million customers in the United States. Nearly 9 million of those are callers who use the Straight Talk plan sold at Walmart.

Worldwide, TracFone's parent company, America Movil, has 279 million wireless customers.

That wasn't the only phone that didn't work in our test.

We tried a Cricket phone. Cricket is a carrier with 9 million customers.

"We're not getting any RapidSOS information so we know it's not working with RapidSOS,” Bateman said during News4’s test.

911 shows the call came in on the AT&T network, just like the TracFone. Again, 911's older technology pinged the phone, but the new technology didn’t see it.

"A lot of people have Cricket phones,” Amons said to Bateman. "That's true," he said.

Amons asked Michael Martin, the CEO of RapidSOS, why he thought the Cricket and TracFones didn't work.

On the day News4 tested the devices, RapidSOS and the 911 center were able to track callers on other networks.

The system was working with two different Verizon phones - so why not the TracFone and Cricket phone?

Martin said he didn't know.

"We weren't aware of any issues with either. But I haven't done as much testing on those networks," Martin said.

Martin said without being there for the test, he couldn't say why the phones didn’t work. Martin said there are a lot of variables; perhaps the internet was slow, he said.

Martin agreed that RapidSOS has issues with Sprint.

Sprint uses an older system that can't send voice and data at the same time.

"We're not 100 percent there yet but we are absolutely striving toward that every single day," Martin said.

It’s important to understand that Nashville’s 911 center didn't replace its old system with RapidSOS. They still ping your phone on a cell tower. RapidSOS is a supplement, a second way to find a caller.

RapidSOS provides its system for free to 911 centers. The company makes money by selling its service to companies like Uber. There is still an expense to 911 centers if they have to upgrade equipment like servers in order for RapidSOS to work.

Copyright 2019 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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