VOIP Comes to the Rescue

 
 
By Caron Carlson  |  Posted 2004-10-25
 
 
 

At Shalom Adult Health Center, calling for help in medical emergencies is an unfortunate, but integral, part of the business. Until now, however, it wasnt possible to call 911 over the voice-over-IP system that the Cleveland center converted to about 18 months ago.

Before VOIP can become a viable widespread substitute for traditional voice service, it will have to meet a number of public service obligations, including 911 emergency dialing. Traditional telephone companies maintain databases of subscriber data, including addresses, and they carry 911 calls, with the data, over tandem switches, across selective routers and directly to PSAP (public safety answering point) operators.

Because VOIP calls are not associated with fixed addresses, they do not automatically carry geographic data and are not directly routed to PSAPs. VOIP providers have been working on alternative methods to deliver location information to PSAPs. This week, hosted VOIP service provider Broadvox LLC will unveil a method that draws from both the traditional system and one used by wireless carriers.

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"Some of VOIPs great selling points are also some of its limitations," said Broadvox CIO Jeff Williams, also in Cleveland. "I think [VOIP 911] should be mandated, and it should be regulated."

The Broadvox 911 system, which will be a standard feature of the providers basic service, requires users to set up profiles on the companys portal, listing names and addresses. Broadvox determines the corresponding longitude and latitude of the addresses (the location coordinates used by the wireless industry) and provides the data to TeleCommunication Systems Inc., of Annapolis, Md., the 911 processing center used by cell phone companies.

When a user dials 911, Broadvox routes the call to TCS, which interconnects directly with selective routers at PSAPs. TCS correlates the address data with PSAP locations and routes the call accordingly. "We dont consider this an option," Williams said, adding that the Broadvox services price will not increase as a result of the 911 feature. "Providers need to be responsible. Peoples lives are on the line."

The feature is slated to be available in all major cities by mid-November. In smaller communities, where Broadvox has few or no subscribers, the company will use an alternative 911 delivery method, which is used by Vonage Holdings Corp. Under that method, 911 calls are transferred to the telephone number of the nearest PSAPs administrative line. The administrative phone is not necessarily answered by a 911 switchboard operator, however, and the call does not deliver location information.

At the Shalom center, where nearly all of the 300 clients have medical problems, access to the emergency calling system is critical, said Polly Bederman, executive director. Typically, the center calls for emergency help two or three times a month, Bederman said.

"We do use 911 quite a lot, unfortunately," said Bederman, the wife of Broadvox co-founder Alex Bederman. The center employs one nurse on-site, about a dozen other staff members in-house and another 60 in the field, but it does not have its own IT personnel, she said.

"I need a phone number I can call, and the guy comes out and does what needs to be done," she said.

Wheres the fire?
Broadvox finds a way to locate VOIP 911 calls. The new system:

  • Lets users set up and maintain address profiles
  • Determines position of address and provides it to a 911 processing center
  • Provider correlates profile and routes call to PSAPs

    Check out eWEEK.coms VOIP & Telephony Center for the latest news, views and analysis on voice over IP and telephony.

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