VOIP Carriers Track 911 Solutions
At least two U.S. companies have married global positioning system (GPS) technology with VOIP, so that VOIP 911 callers can be located automatically in an emergency -– even if they’ve given no address to their VOIP provider beforehand.
GPS E911 goes even one step past the requirements of the recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order that all VOIP providers facilitate “enhanced” 911 service for all customers (see Sources: FCC Will Force VOIP E911). While the order requires providers to have physical addresses on file for all their customers, it allows for the customers to provide those addresses themselves (see FCC Requires VOIP E911).
“We’re fully compliant with the order – we’re a little bit ahead of it,” says CEO Richard Koch of VOIP wholesaler RNK Telecom, which has launched a joint venture with GPS tracking company One Star Tracking to manufacture a VOIP GPS device it calls “Edison.”
The Edison, a cigarette pack-sized device that sits between the user’s analog telephone adapter (ATA) and broadband modem, pings the VOIP provider with its latitude, longitude, and altitude every 10 minutes. The provider converts that data into a physical address and matches it against the address provided by the customer. The correct address is sent to the Automatic Location Identification (ALI) database used by emergency personnel.
“One of the FCC’s problems was that people are required to tell when they move, through active participation,” Koch says. “This requires the end user to physically go into a Website or call somebody and say, ‘you know I’m moving this thing down the street.’ " Koch says the FCC wants to move away from such reliance on the customer.
Another GPS E911 developer, Dallas-based IP911 Resource, says it has recently obtained a patent on its “Superior 911” GPS solution. The company describes it this way in a release: “The software uses a GPS device to pinpoint the exact location of the caller in terms of longitude, latitude, and altitude. Location software and database comparisons are then used to find the address of the emergency and the nearest public safety location and phone number to route the VOIP emergency.”
The four-employee company has been working on Superior 911 solution for four years, but so far has not announced any customers. The company didn't return Light Reading's calls for comment on this story.
The GPS 911 technology emerges as VOIP providers large and small scramble to put the “E” in their 911. The "E911," or "enhanced 911," allows emergency personel to automatically derive an address and call-back number from an incoming VOIP 911 call. For example, Vonage Holdings Corp. CEO Jeffrey Citron told Light Reading his company will spend "tens of millions," and untold man-hours to access the wireline emergency systems (controlled by the ILECs in most cases) needed to provide E911.
In fact, most U.S. VOIP providers are now working to establish such connections before the November 28 FCC deadline (see Level 3 Expands E911 VOIP, Vonage to Buy E911 Service From RBOCs, RBOCs Change Tone on VOIP E911, and Global Crossing Announces VOIP Service ). So implementing automatic location discovery using GPS is an option for most VOIP companies today.
“We haven’t announced a solution on the nomadic users as yet,” says AT&T Corp. (NYSE: T) spokesman Gary Morgenstern. “We are trying out different things in the lab right now, but that will be a later announcement.”
“That [GPS] is certainly one way to skin the cat,” Morgenstern says.
But the VOIP community may be forced to act sooner than later on the issue. The FCC is already testing the waters for eventually requiring automatic address collection. Chairman Kevin Martin has said VOIP should have all the E911 capability of wireline phone service.
The commission has announced a Notice of Public Rulemaking on the auto-locate issue for August (see VOIP 911 Still Trails Wireline). Also, it has asked for feedback on auto-locate technologies in its June 3 E911 order.
“They haven’t come out with a mandate saying you’ve got to have this,” says RNK’s Koch. But Koch sees no reason to wait for a regulatory mandate to roll out the technology to his resellers' customers.
“It’s sort of like if you’re on a ship and somebody falls overboard and you can throw a life preserver to them, you’re not going to say ‘you know we haven’t been in committee yet; we haven’t made a ruling yet and I don’t know which hand to throw it with -- my right hand or my left hand. You know, how long can you tread water?’ ” Koch adds, verbally treading water.
Koch also sees a competitive advantage in offering Edison now. He says Edison will not increase the cost of RNK VOIP service for the resellers or their customers. "I figure we’ll have paid for this thing in two-and-a-half, three months,” Koch says. “For our resellers it will give them a leg up on other people.” (See VOIP Subscriber Numbers Soar.)
— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading