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Blog Posts

E911 for VOIP – No Easy Solutions

Posted on: November 28, 2020

Andy Abramson in VOIP Watch is enthusiastic about new legislation to equate VOIP calls to land-line calls relative to access to E911. It is a noble effort and certainly VOIP carriers should not be blocked from placing E911 calls, but my problem is that VOIP calls are not at all like land-line calls. It’s more like trying to attach 911 to Instant Messenger. When I log in to IM, I could be at home, at the office or at some Wi-Fi hotspot somewhere. But, at each location, it’s still me. IM is not tied down to a physical location. Neither is VOIP. I have three phones all registered as “me”. I have a phone in our NYC office, a phone in my home office and a soft phone on my laptop. That’s three different physical locations. Two of them are relatively stationary, but my laptop could be anywhere. I could make three different ‘users’ for my three phones and make people call different extensions to find me, but all that hassle just to ‘fix’ 911 doesn’t seem worth it. In order to do 911 properly, you need to tie down the phones to a single, never changing physical location, but that, in my opinion, kills one of the major selling points of VOIP. Another major obstacle to VOIP 911 deployment is a notion of one phone number equals one location. For many, many of our customers, that is just not the case. Most customers have just one or two (a local and a toll-free) phone number but that represents handsets strewn around the globe. Specifically, we require the ability for a E911 service provider to provide service based on handsets or users, not on phone numbers. Companies running their own PBX are another special case. Either the pbx needs to send the service provider all of the same E911 information or they need their own direct access to the PSAPs. Direct access would be best as it takes one of the links out of the chain. But, that would require an overhaul of the VOIP PBXs to directly support E911 and for PSAPs to accept calls from almost anywhere. Fundamentally, I feel it is flawed to force VOIP to provide a destination when a call is placed to 911. Should dialing 911 reach a PSAP? Yes. But, it needs to be a different PSAP from what we have today. Ideally, there would be a national clearinghouse of 911 calls which could off-load the non-emergency calls and route the high-priority calls to the proper geography to be handled by local emergency responders. For the most part, it’s a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. There is no simple solution but there needs to be much more research and analysis done. Sadly, that’s not the legislation I see being passed.