The State of E911 in VoIP Services

E911 - Call Center

Emergency services are important for any phone service to have ready at all times. If you use a voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) service, it is easy to assume or take for granted that you have an adequate service in place. It might surprise you to know this may not be the case, but there are steps you can take to ensure your organization is prepared if a 911 call is ever needed.

What is E911?

Traditional 911 services were established with hard-lined telephones in mind. Service providers were able to keep track of physical addresses associated with each phone number, allowing them to route calls to the nearest public safety answering point easily. The introduction of mobile phones and VoIP services demanded a new system since numbers calling through these services do not have static locations associated with them.

Enhanced 911, or E911, is the solution in place for these frameworks. When a 911 call is placed from a mobile or VoIP number, it is assigned a pseudo automatic number identifier (PANI) as a signal to the mobile positioning center that receives the call. The PANI looks like a phone number, but the receiving system recognizes it as a PANI and sends out a query to receive the correct location for the call. The system queries the service provider for the caller’s latitude and longitude in the case of a mobile call and uses a self-provided list of addresses for calls placed on a VoIP network.

Issues With E911

To make the 911 service work in general, there are two emergency services gateway networks and three voice-positioning centers. A VoIP service provider needs to contract for one of each of these services, and they are then able to provide E911 services on their network. Contracting these services can be pricey so providers may try to cut costs by avoiding it even if that means not fulfilling their requirements.

There are also issues with correctly finding the location of the caller. The coordinates received from a mobile caller are not always accurate, especially when the call is made indoors and the device may not be able to communicate properly with positioning satellites. The list of addresses used for VoIP calls is self-provided, which can make it error prone if a location is entered incorrectly or when users change locations – even temporarily. Keeping the list up to date is imperative for this reason.

Upcoming Improvements

Emergency services are working on improvements known as Next-Generation 911 (NG911). This will allow features, such as receiving text messages, in addition to voice calls. It will also improve location issues by using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and geographic information systems to locate the caller.

While a number of states either have or are planning to transition to NG911, which includes Maine, Vermont, Iowa and Indiana as states that have made the transition, state and municipal governments need to upgrade their 911 technology to accommodate sending and receiving the needed data and information through the Internet. The estimated cost for the needed upgrades is $5 million to $7 million for major metropolitan governments but phone companies are hoping to see the upgrades finished by 2020.

Interested in learning more about E911? Reach out to us at [email protected] or call us at 833-838-7289.

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