Somebody Call 911


To quote the immortal words of Sean Kingston…

“Somebody call 911!
Shawty fire burning on the dance floor


 Fortunately spontaneous shawty combustion is rare these days, at least in Canada, but provision of 911 services remains a serious business for VoIP providers.  Back in the old telecom world, customers were all on the end of a piece of copper wire that ran from the telephone company to their location  It wasn’t hard to know exactly where the caller to 911 was located and transfer the customer, along with the physical location details, automatically to the closest public service access point (PSAP) where the local dispatcher would take the call.

In most VoIP installations, there is no easy to way to determine the physical location of the caller.  With just an IP address to go on, there are some clues to the location , but these  can often be totally misleading or just give a very general information.

Early VoIP implementations deliberately avoided the tricky 911 issue, generally specifying in the fine print that there was no 911 capability to the customer.  In 2005, the CRTC addressed this gap by mandating that all VoIP providers supply at a minimum basic 911 service.  Basic 911 service transfers the call to a call centre (without any location information).  The operator in the call centre can then ask the caller for location information so that the call can be transferred to the closest PSAP dispatcher.  The 2005 CRTC decision also mandated VoIP providers to clearly indicate the limitations of the 911 solution in sales literature and documentation, and to provide labels for end users.

Subsequent CRTC decisions have tightened up the 2005 decision mandating the use of E911.  E911 is an enhanced version of the basic 911 service.  For E911, the VoIP provider maintains a database with the end user’s address linked to the callerid.  When a users dials 911, the call is still passed to an emergency call centre, but the emergency operator also receives the address on file.  The operator can quickly confirm the address before passing the call to the local PSAP.  This is still an extra step in the 911 call.  In 2010, the CRTC mandated that VoIP service providers provide an online method for customers to update their address.

The CRTC continues to investigate long term solutions to locate the VoIP end user such as Ci2, a Canadian version of the i2 solution being introduced in the US, but prohibitive cost, complexity and unproven technology look likely to stall this for many years,

Third party E911 services are available for VoIP providers in Canada from Northern911 or for lower volumes Digital Conceptions .

In summary, the CRTC requires all VoIP providers to end users in Canada   to provide an E911 solution, clear customer notification and an online solution to keep the address updated.