Opinion: Customers of cutting-edge VOIP must be prepared so they don't find themselves in a bleeding-edge situation.
One of the problems facing new technologies is that while they may be less expensive and include new features, there often are subtle differences between it and the technology it replaces.
Sometimes this causes problemseven life-or-death problemsfor customers.
Take Vonage, for example. Sure, its VOIP services can be a good value, if you already have the broadband anyway.
But, if you pick up the VOIP phone and dial 911, youll be in for a surprise.
Talk about bleeding edge, here goes:
On the Internet, according to the saying, nobody knows youre a dog.
They also dont know precisely where youre located, at least not usually.
So pick up the Vonage VOIP handset, dial 911 and see what happens.
Unless youve provided Vonage with the address where the service is being used, youre going to spend extra timeprecious timebefore you reach your local emergency responders.
Finding yourself with no "real" telephone and an unprogrammed Vonage box is perhaps the only time Id recommend using a cellular phone to call 911.
A wireless call may not be answered by your local emergency dispatchers, but the call is likely to be handled by someone close to you.
With Vonage, the network is not able to automatically route 911 calls based on the location of the IP address and route them to the proper dispatch center.
Both VOIP and cellular lose the advantages that come with enhanced 911, which provides dispatchers with information about where the call originated.
Having the street address appear on the screen of a computer-aided dispatch system is useful when children call 911 or when calls come from adults who for some reason cannot speak.
In most places, just dialing 911 and hanging up will result in a police officer or firefighter appearing at your door.
With cellular, there is a theoretical possibility that your call for help will be handled by cellular technology that can determine your location fairly precisely and route your call to the appropriate agency.
The cellular industry seems, however, to be dragging its feet with implementation. The 911 agencies also have to install equipment at their end, further delaying this lifesaving technology.
You might think that to be considered an "improvement," new technology must do all the things that the technology being replaced already does, only better and less expensively.
This backward compatibility has proven key to the adoption of computers and software.
But it hasnt been demanded by telephony customers, who seem to assume, wrongly, that all phones work the same way regardless of how they work.
Next Page: Vonage in Texas.
One of technology's most recognized bylines, David Coursey is Special Correspondent for eWeek.com, where he writes a daily Blog (blog.ziffdavis.com/coursey) and twice-weekly column. He is also Editor/Publisher of the Technology Insights newsletter and President of DCC, Inc., a professional services and consulting firm.
Former Executive Editor of ZDNet AnchorDesk, Coursey has also been Executive Producer of a number of industry conferences, including DEMO, Showcase, and Digital Living Room. Coursey's columns have been quoted by both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and he has appeared on ABC News Nightline, CNN, CBS News, and other broadcasts as an expert on computing and the Internet. He has also written for InfoWorld, USA Today, PC World, Computerworld, and a number of other publications. His Web site is www.coursey.com.