Voice over Internet Protocol providers Skype, and Vonage are just two of the many VoIP telecoms service providers which have, in the past, come under fire in the US, and elsewhere, for failing to connect emergency 911 calls.
It is quite natural for users to assume that VoIP based systems will provide emergency response services in much in the same way as is provided via cell phones and fixed line phones. Indeed, the suppliers of VoIP services want us to view their systems as equals to fixed lines, and indeed also, cell/mobile phone services.
Now, it is highly possible, in fact, that as the technology behind VoIP is further refined over the next few years it will become impossible for even technically aware users to know whether a particular phone system is either VoIP based, or a standard fixed line system. So, this being the case unless VoIP providers can get this service up and running there are going to be tragedies arising from users assuming that they have emergency service call coverage, when in reality they don’t have any 911 capability whatsoever.
Some tragedies have already occurred already from VoIP’s 911 shortcomings, in the emergency call area. It has been reported that one tragedy in particular has already needed legal defence from provider Edison, N. to deflect prosecution.
Stories about problems with the local emergency call capability of VoIP based cell phones, in use in current systems in place, have already been known to feature in the headlines of newspapers. Reports focus on the fact that individuals in emergencies are been picking up their VoIP phones unaware that no service is provided, and they waste much precious time before realizing that they will not be able to place the necessary emergency call.
As VoIP phones are on the Internet and nomadic, the location of the individual placing the 911 call can be very difficult to determine. VoIP and 911 issues are not easy for the VoIP providers to resolve either, as users often install their service on laptops and other mobile devise, from which there is no geolocation data available in the way this data is integral to cell phone systems.
The solution proposed is that all VoIP providers should be required to transmit all 911 calls, including a call-back number and the registered street address of the customer, to the appropriate emergency call enter or local emergency authority. These systems have reportedly been developed by some VoIP providers and are available. However, in many areas cases emergency service providers are not yet capable of receiving and/or processing the call-back number or street address information transmitted with VoIP 911 calls, and even where they have been implemented there a very big question mark over the adequacy of such a system.
For this reason, in this article we can only talk in general and we recommend that all existing and potential VoIP users ask detailed questions concerning VoIP 911 service provider requirements and regulations, in their location. You should visit the local telecoms regulator’s web site or similar local inspector’s website, and if necessary make enquiries to these bodies for clarification, and make your decision on how to act on this matter. It could be a matter of life and death to the users, for example, of an office VoIP system in the event of fire or entrapment.