The eCall numbering challenge

From 31 March 2018, all new cars sold in Europe must have eCall capability. As the day fast approaches, however, a number of regulatory and technical challenges must be overcome.

Chief among them is the provision of a sustainable numbering framework for eCall devices, which will provide sufficient capacity and sustainability in the long term. The ECC is playing a central role in addressing the number challenge. But first let us take a look at eCall, its history and its benefits.

What is eCall?

eCall is an initiative intended to bring rapid assistance to motorists involved in a collision anywhere in Europe. It works using in-vehicle sensors which when activated - for example, by deployment of the vehicle’s airbags - automatically call the pan-European Emergency Number 112.

(Source: European Commission)

A voice connection is then established with the relevant Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) and a minimum set of data (MSD) including GPS coordinates and other information (if available) such as speed at impact, number of engaged seatbelt points and direction of travel, are sent to the PSAP. eCall can also be activated manually by pressing a dedicated eCall button in the vehicle.

Time saved = Lives saved

Road deaths on European roads totalled over 25,700 in 2014 alone, according to figures from the EU. According to official statistical data on eCall, the service is estimated to have the potential to save up to 2,500 lives annually, while also reducing the severity of injuries by 10% to 15%.

Getting an immediate alert in the event of an accident and knowing the exact location of the crash site cuts emergency services' response time by 50% in rural and 40% in urban areas. In cold hard financial terms, Europe's economic loss caused by road accidents amounts to more than €160 billion per year. If all cars were equipped with the eCall system, up to €20 billion could be saved annually.

Legislation for eCall in the European Union

A three-pronged regulatory approach has been implemented to make eCall a reality in Europe. The legislation addresses the in-vehicle system, the PSAPs and the mobile communications networks.

In-vehicle requirements: An EU Regulation amending the type-approval Directive for motor vehicles was published on 29 April 2015. This concerned type-approval requirements for the deployment of the eCall in-vehicle system in all new M1 (passenger cars) and N1 (light duty) types of vehicles. The regulation requires all new car models to be equipped with eCall technology from 31 March 2018.

Public Safety Answering Points: An EU Decision, published on 15 May 2014, provides that Member States ensure all PSAPs are equipped to handle eCalls as expeditiously and effectively as any other call made to 112. They should also receive the data contents of the MSD and present them to the PSAP operator clearly and understandably. The PSAP must also have access to an appropriate Geographical Information System (GIS) or an equivalent system. This will allow the PSAP operator to identify the position and heading of the vehicle to a minimum degree of accuracy based on the location coordinates presented in the MSD.

The necessary infrastructure to handle eCalls must be in place at least six months before the type-approval requirements for the corresponding in-vehicle device start to apply. This means no later than 1 October 2017.

Mobile Communications Networks: Interestingly, there is no mandatory requirement on Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) regarding any aspect of the eCall service. An EC Recommendation adopted on 08 September 2011 requires EU member states to ensure that mobile networks could handle eCalls by 31 December 2014. This is achieved by implementing what is known as “the eCall Discriminator Flag”. This provides additional information in the signalling to the PSAP to allow it to discriminate between eCalls to 112 and normal calls to 112. The flag also allows the PSAP to determine if the eCall was initiated automatically by the vehicle following an accident or if it was initiated manually by the occupant of the vehicle.

eCall in the CEPT area

While the legislation makes eCall mandatory within the European Union, other CEPT countries are also taking steps to implement eCall. For example, the Russian Federation implemented its own version of eCall on 1 January 2015, and Turkey was actively involved in the eCall pilot projects. Now, the system is expected to be rolled out right across the continent. WG NaN, the ECC’s Working Group on Numbering and Networks, is also planning an ECC deliverable on numbering for eCall once the potential solutions have been fully considered.

Stakeholder Initiatives

The successful implementation of eCall depends on close cooperation and collaboration between all relevant stakeholders. Two important stakeholder initiatives include:

  • European eCall Implementation Platform (EeIP)

    The EeIP is a coordination body bringing together representatives of the relevant stakeholders who support the implementation of eCall in Europe. It aims to guide, coordinate and monitor the progress of the implementation of the eCall service to ensure a timely, effective and harmonised deployment.

  • Harmonised eCall European Pilot (HeERO)

    HeERO was a three-year project, which started in January 2011 and was partially funded by the European Commission under the ICT Policy Support Programme. The pilot gathered 40 partners from all over Europe including user organisations and telecommunications companies. Fifteen countries took part in the project, the purpose of which was to prepare for the deployment of the necessary infrastructure in Europe to make eCall a reality. The project's deployments were based on ETSI, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, and CEN, the European Committee for Standardisation, standards. The objective was to carry out proof of concept testing and to identify interoperability issues. In the different countries the full eCall service chain (PSAPs, Emergency Dispatch and Management Centres, Mobile Network Operators, Fleet owners, Public and Private Road Operators, Original Equipment Manufacturers) was covered for the execution of the pilot.

    The HeERO project concluded with the final HeERO conference which took place in Madrid on 27-28 November 2014. The purpose of the conference was to highlight the final outcomes, impact and results of the HeERO project. Each pilot site shared its experiences, and participants had the opportunity to see eCall demonstrations.


With EU legislation now in place and proof of concept completed, the relevant stakeholders are in the process of preparing for deployment by 31 March 2018. There are still interoperability issues to be resolved and ERTICO’s interoperability working group is addressing some of these challenges. In parallel, the EeIP has set up task forces to address several challenges including that of providing a sustainable numbering and addressing framework for eCall communications devices. The inclusion of the number challenge in the terms of reference of this group was successfully argued by the WG NaN.

Numbering for eCall

The ECC first identified the potential challenges with providing a sustainable number solution for eCall in 2013 and the subject has been a priority work item since then. At first, it was not very clear how eCall would work, and WG NaN established a dialogue with the EeIP to find out more.

eCall has all the characteristics of a mobile service and its success is dependent on good geographical coverage and the ability to roam across national and international networks. Therefore each eCall device requires a valid SIM card, and consequently, an E.212 International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number - for network authentication and registration - and an E.164 telephone number for making and receiving calls.

From a numbering perspective, eCall is an Machine to Machine (M2M) application. Some commentators might argue that eCall facilitates voice communications between humans and is therefore not M2M. However, the reality is that numbering resources will be required for millions of eCall devices installed over a wide geographic area. Furthermore, the owner of the vehicle containing the eCall device will not be the subscriber of the communications service. Therefore it fits neatly in to the M2M category, and because of these characteristics poses a number of interesting questions for national numbering plan managers.

E.212 IMSI numbering – Leveraging economies of scale and avoiding “operator lock-in”

ECC Report 212 addresses evolution in the use of E.212 Mobile Network Codes (MNCs). The MNC is 2 digits in length and represents the 4th and 5th digit of a 15-digit IMSI number. Each SIM card has a unique IMSI number. MNCs are mainly assigned to mobile network operators but the supply chain for mobile communications is changing, and there are valid business cases, including eCall, where it may be more practical to assign these resources to entities other than MNOs. This subject is comprehensively covered in the aforementioned ECC Report.

As vehicle manufacturers are mandated to install eCall devices in all vehicles, it would seem logical to execute this task at the point of manufacture to leverage economies of scale. This would also mean that the IMSI number would need to be pre-configured on embedded eCall devices before shipment to the different countries. This poses the question of the most appropriate E.212 resource to use and who it should be assigned to. Is it appropriate for a car manufacturer to use the E.212 resources of one country to address eCall devices in all domestic markets it will export to? Furthermore, if millions of devices are installed through a partnership with a single MNO, then changing the underlying service provider could be problematic.

Under national and European legislation for Electronic Communications, end-users of electronic communications services in Europe have a right to switch their service provider. Individual customers of mobile services can easily switch provider by physically changing the SIM card in their device. A car manufacturer with SIM cards embedded into potentially thousands of cars located in multiple countries is a bigger switching challenge. The ECC is involved at ITU-T (the ITU telecommunications standardisation sector) level, and is in discussions with the GSMA, which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, and ETSI to find administrative and technical solutions to resolve the operator lock-in problem.

Impact on E.164 numbering

One of the principle responsibilities of national numbering plan managers is to ensure sufficient numbering capacity for new and existing market entrants in order to facilitate competition and innovation. Statistics show that there are over 230 million vehicles in Europe and 87% of these are private cars. Around 5% of the vehicle stock is upgraded every year. Table 1 below, based on figures from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), shows the average number of new vehicles registered over the last five years.

Table 1: New vehicle registrations (EU+EFTA) 2009 – 2014 (source: ACEA)

Projections based on the above figures suggest that approximately 13 million E.164 new numbers will be required for eCall devices each year from 2018. This could have a negative impact on the available stock of mobile numbers particularly in the larger European countries with automotive industry activity. This is a key concern for national administrations as the cost of number changes is extremely high and requires lengthy planning. The ECC is investigating the possibility of using new dedicated M2M numbering ranges for eCall where the digit string is as long as possible (max 15 digits) in order to avoid number exhaustion in existing mobile ranges. It is also looking at global numbering solutions such as ITU-T international numbering ranges.

Recycling of numbering resources to ensure efficient use

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the efficient use of these resources when vehicles are decommissioned at end of life. In 10 to 15 years after eCall implementation, a substantial number of vehicles will reach end of life each year and the numbering resources used by these vehicles should be recovered, quarantined and then recycled. The end-of-life issue is also important for MNOs as they need to know when vehicles have been decommissioned and the eCall devices are no longer allowed to attach to mobile networks. Furthermore, linking the IMSI number to the Vehicle Identification Number will allow for the implementation of a testing regime, and eCall functionality to be tested as part of the mandatory national car testing regimes already in place. The ECC is active within the EeIP’s Task Force on Life Cycle Management (LCM) which plans to produce a report covering the numbering, testing and end-of-life subjects by Spring 2016.

Policy Options?

So the key question for regulators and policy makers in the context of numbering for eCall is whether the traditional approach to numbering on a national basis is suitable. Can national numbering arrangements cope with potentially millions of eCall and other M2M devices being assigned numbering resources in one European country for connectivity in another? Is an international solution a better approach in the long term?

The ECC will remain at the heart of the debate in the coming months and will be actively involved in discussions with all stakeholders taking place within EeIP, ERTICO and the European Commission. The discussions should provide further light on the best numbering solution(s) to adopt in order to avoid fragmentation and ensure sustainability in the long term.

Freddie McBride, ECO expert – Numbering & Networks

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