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Will Challenges With 911 Slow VoIP Adoption?
Major phone companies are offering VoIP providers with 911 services, but tracking and routing issues remain.
Posted Jul 1, 2005
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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently has been opening its ears more to issues surrounding Voice over IP (VoIP), including the 911 capabilities of VoIP providers--or lack thereof for some. In May FCC Chairman Kevin Martin announced a mandate requiring such providers to incorporate 911 services into their offerings. Only weeks earlier Vonage Holdings announced a partnership with Verizon to offer its customers E911 (enhanced 911) service, a technology that locates an emergency caller's position. As a result, Vonage will be able to supply 911 call center operators with the caller's number and location. Vonage also has agreements with other phone companies, including BellSouth and SBC Communications, to gain access to their E911 systems. Issues surrounding 911 and VoIP still exist, however. Unlike traditional phones, on which the caller's location is provided to the call center operator, 911 calls made using VoIP can pose a serious routing concern. A VoIP customer with a mobile handset can have, say, a California-based phone number, but actually be in New York, leaving a window of uncertainty as to where the call is really located, and therefore, what 911 call center to route the call to. There may also be instances where calls may not be routed to a live agent. For example, with Vonage, which is facing legal battles accusing it of misleading customers about the limitations of its E911 capabilities, VoIP customers must provide it with their new location when they move or travel. Al Baker, vice president of product management at Siemens Global eCRM Solutions, says that while a 911 center is in essence a contact center, "the contact center is sort of the endpoint" and what's more important is the effect it has on residences. Additionally, according to Elizabeth Ussher, industry analyst, adding 911 capability to VoIP is not having much of an impact on the contact center. "It hasn't slowed down deployment too much on the whole enterprise side, so I can't see specific [impact] to contact centers being a problem." The real deployment issue, according to Baker, is VoIP usage in the home. One of the pieces needed for VoIP providers to deliver 911 service similar to how land line companies handle 911 calls is the ability to locate the closest public safety answering point (PSAP), the location where 911 calls are received and then routed to the appropriate services. "There are some states that are saying now that if you can't prove to us that you can identify where someone is located over your VoIP network, then you can no longer deploy in our state," Baker says. "That's seriously curtailing the deployment of VoIP into the residential market." According to an IDC study, however, the number of U.S. residential VoIP services subscribers may grow from 3 million in 2005 to 27 million by the end of 2009.
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