Intrado, a vendor of emergency dialing technology, has conducted a successful trial of using E911 emergency dialing capabilities with mobile VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) phones, the company said.
Intrado's trial in New York in August was aimed at solving one of the major problems with location-based E911, or enhanced 911, service with VOIP phones, said Stephen Meer, Intrado's chief technology officer. E911 relays the location of a caller to the emergency dispatch center, but many VOIP phones are not tied to one physical address -- users can connect the phones to any broadband network to make calls.
The Intrado auto-locate trial used back-end 911 system technology from the company in combination with several location-finding technologies, Meer said. Included in the test were GPS (global positioning system) technology, a technology that triangulates high-definition television signals and one that surveys local Wi-Fi access points, he said.
Combined with Intrado technology, the location-finding technologies were able to route VOIP 911 calls to emergency dispatch centers, using the dispatch equipment already installed, Meer said. No location-finding technology works in every situation -- GPS, for example, can have problems in densely packed tall buildings -- but a combination of location-finding technology can work, he said.
"The real solution here is going to be a bundling of technologies," Meer said.
Many large VOIP providers have been slow to provide E911 service to all their customers, with the mobility of VOIP phones being one of the problems. Because VOIP services route 911 calls through IP networks instead of the traditional telephone network, some VOIP phones have phone numbers that can follow the phone wherever it's plugged in.
The Intrado test shows this problem has solutions, Meer said, although none of the newer location-finding technologies works as well as a traditional wireline phone tied to one address. The Intrado trial generally provided dispatchers with locations based on latitude and longitude, similar to current wireless phone 911 calls, but not as useful as street addresses, he said.
Although the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has required VOIP providers to offer E911 service, more public discussion is needed about how precise a location the E911 call should provide, Meer said.
"If the national public policy turns out to be, 'We're sort of going to tell you within a mile or so where you are,' there are going to be no little girls calling for help when their mommy's fallen down the steps," Meer said. "We have to have some interesting discussions about what's the right level for public safety."
The Intrado trial doesn't attack a second problem with VOIP phones and E911. Providers such as Vonage Holdings and AT&T have allowed customers to pick phone numbers not normally assigned to their local area. This "nomadic" service allows customers to choose a phone number that would not be a long-distance call to family or friends living half-way across the country, but the nonlocal phone numbers make it difficult to implement E911's location pinpointing feature, Vonage and other VOIP providers have said.