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Wholesale VoIP Feature Article

If Your VoIP Service Doesn't have 911, It Should

February 18, 2014
By Rory J. Thompson, Web Editor

As a longtime volunteer firefighter and now emergency medical technician (EMT), I’m well aware of the importance of 911 and knowing the address of where help is needed. But with the proliferation of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services worldwide, a new wrinkle has been introduced.

Landline phones come with a fixed address: When you call 911 from one of those, your location pops up immediately on the dispatcher’s screen. But call 911 from a mobile VoIP phone, and your location is not so evident. When you’re clutching your chest or gasping for air, that might be a problem (he said understatedly).

Technical Support Representative Cameron Nutter of wholesale VoIP provider VoIP Innovations (News - Alert) addresses that very issue in a blog post titled “911 Over VoIP.” In it, he takes a close look at this critical issue.

“Before signing on with a VoIP provider, it is essential that you understand their E911 service and how exactly it works. 911 over VoIP, for the most part, is very similar to 911 over PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network lines), but with a few key differences,” Nutter writes. “A typical PSTN telephone number is associated with a fixed address. With VoIP, and the portability that it brings, a telephone number can be used from practically anywhere in the country that has access to the Internet. Keeping address information for your DIDs accurate and up to date is an absolute must. Many providers (such as VoIP Innovations) offer test services that will allow you to verify that your E911 information has been properly uploaded and is working as intended.”

And that’s a key point with which the FCC (News - Alert) agrees.

“The FCC has issued requirements to make sure that 911 over VoIP is up to the challenge of delivering what is arguably the most important phone call that you can make,” Nutter observes. “Another important item to note is that at this time, the FCC only requires VoIP providers that are fully interconnected (VoIP services that use the PSTN network) to provide access to emergency services.”

To that end, Nutter listed some helpful tips from the FCC about 911 and VoIP. They include:

  • Have a clear understanding of any limitations of your 911 service;
  • Inform children, babysitters and visitors about your VoIP service and its 911 limitations, if any;
  • If your power is out or your Internet connection is down, be aware that your VoIP service may not work. Consider installing a backup power supply, maintaining a traditional phone line or having a wireless phone as a backup;
  • If you have questions about whether or not the phone service you are receiving is an interconnected VoIP service, contact your service provider for further information.

Remember, not all VoIP services work with 911. But the time to find out is now, and not when you need it the most.

Edited by Blaise McNamee
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