Dial M for Murder; Dial A for Aspire

Author: Declan O'Neill

Crime fighting and mobile telecom optimization may not seem like they go hand in hand but you might be surprised how innovative solutions can cross the barrier.

The sophistication of location services in the mobile networks has grown in leaps and bounds from GSM to LTE and even further in the plans for 5G. With this extra sophistication comes a wealth of information. In the days of 2G, location would be estimated based off which towers the UE was connected to using cell identification, as the UE can be connected to a single cell this gives a general overview of where it is located.

It should be noted that in some markets, regulators have mandated that emergency calls have high accuracy location, achieved via A-GPS with OTDOA or with Indoor Positioning techniques such as Wi-Fi based measurements, but this is the exception rather than the rule and not applicable to day to day 2G network usage.

In 3G there is a more advanced method using multiple cells, still using cell IDs but adding the signal strength of the tower, the timing advance value and the primary scrambling code, resulting in more accurate positioning. The denser the cells (e.g. in an Urban environment) the more accurate the location.

In LTE there is Positioning Reference Signal from release 9 to determine the location of the UE. In 5G, High-Precision Positioning will be an essential feature, with requirements of sub-meter accuracy.

The ubiquity of mobile phones and their trace-ability has taken centre stage in both real life and fiction when it comes to nefarious activity. The concept of the burner phone was made popular by McNulty & Co. in the popular television show ‘The Wire’ but in the 10+ years since the show aired, the tech has dated dramatically. More recently, in the real world, a court case captivated Ireland, as man from Dublin was convicted of killing a woman he was seeing outside his marriage. The entire country was enthralled by the more risqué details of the case, but one of the more important factors in the conviction was proving that a burner phone that was shown to communicate between the two parties was in fact used by the later convicted man. The Irish law under which the use of this data was used was later ruled to contravene EU law, so this is important stuff!

The pertinent part for this piece is how the data linked the burner phone to the soon-to-be convicted killer. Was it that; when connected to three base stations, the investigators were able to see the sets of timing differences to produce three hyperbolic equations to pinpoint his location? No. In fact the method used would not have been out of place in the out-of-date show ‘The Wire’. The man in question had a registered phone in his name via his workplace. This phone was shown to connect base stations in locations nearby to the burner phone with such frequency, it was practically impossible for the burner phone to be in the possession of anyone else. A simple solution to a complex problem.

Here at Aspire, we pride ourselves on innovation. We are always on the lookout to create new solutions for our customers, but that doesn’t always mean reinventing the wheel. Capital investment, while called for in some situations, is not always needed. At Aspire we use our deep optimization experience to squeeze the best possible performance from existing hardware, really sweating that network!

How much unused potential can we unlock for you?