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E911 for VoIP


E911 for VoIP should provide the same level of location awareness we've come to expect from wired phones. The objective is for calls to be routed to the correct dispatch center and accurate location information to be transmitted to the dispatch center.

The federal and state governments are enacting laws mandating VoIP E911 services for both service providers and business alike. Organizations like NENA, APCO and the FCC offer guidance on how E911 for VoIP should be implemented. The IETF is working on standards for transmitting location information. And RedSky Technologies makes a compelling E911 solution.

E911 requirements for VoIP will be enacted, but expect a phased approach. VoIP service providers are required by the federal government to have E911. The FCC has left the decision for private business to the states, but expect "best practices" and threat of lawsuits and bad publicity to drive companies to adopt E911 for VoIP. The IETF work indicates that location information transmitted over SIP is in the plans.

Errors in the 911 call system have plagued the emergency-services infrastructure in the United States for years. Recent headlines recount the various mistakes: 911 calls routed to the wrong emergency call center, calls sent to administrative offices rather than dispatch offices, and calls put on hold. Problems with voice over IP E911 (Enhanced 911) services compound the troubles of standard 911 service.

Several groups, including the NENA (National Emergency Number Association) and APCO (Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials), are pushing hard for improvements to VoIP E911 service. In particular, NENA recently threw its support behind S.1063, a bill being debated in Congress that would let VoIP providers gain the same access to 911 facilities as those used by wireless and wireline telcos. In addition, bills in Congress and regulations from the FCC are attempting to address VoIP's lack of adequate location services for 911 calls.

According to the FCC, most wireline and wireless services support E911. The goal is for VoIP products, such as IP PBXs and VoIP phones, to provide the same level of location information as a wired phone offers. Some technologies exist to address this need, and we expect the threat of lawsuits will propel private companies to make sure VoIP systems in use at their enterprises support E911. In addition, working groups at the IETF are focused on improving the transmission of location information using protocols such as SIP (Session Initiation Protocol).

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