VoIP experts: 911 services should be mandatory

As voice-over-IP services roll out across Canada, the industry has to work towards getting rid of obstacles that prevent people from making 9-1-1 emergency calls, experts told the Canadian Institute’s VoIP Summit Wednesday.

For instance, VoIP may fail if there is a power outage and no back-up

generator available. It may also cause routing problems to the appropriate Public Service Answering Point (PSAP), a communication centre that’s the first point of reception of all 9-1-1 calls, explained Michel Racicot, a partner with law firm McCarthy Tétrault in Montreal.

VoIP also has problems in filling the Automatic Location Indentification (ALI) and Automatic Number Identification (ANI) databases with correct information, Racicot said.

Some VoIP service providers, however, have had success. Primus Canada managed to properly route and provide the ANI/ALI information for 9-1-1 calls in areas where the subscriber selected a local NPA (North American Number Plan Area) and where the NPA matches the PSAP coverage area, said Racicot.

Another supplier of VoIP services, Vonage completed a E9-1-1 trial in Rhode Island last October in which it delivered both callers’ location and call-back number to 9-1-1 emergency services personnel for 9-1-1 calls placed using Vonage broadband phone service.

Racicot said other issues facing VoIP concern the regulation of the phone service in Canada. He said although the Canadian Radio and Television Commission has a preliminary view that certain providers of local VoIP services may not initially be able to provide 9-1-1 or E9-1-1 services, it should become mandatory for all local VoIP service providers to offer these features, as well as accompanying privacy safeguards, as soon as possible.

Moreover, the CRTC said VoIP subscribers also need a proper warning about the non-availability of 9-1-1 service in certain regions, he explained.

Racicot said CRTC hearings were conducted in September and a final decision is still expected. In the meantime, the CRTC Interconnection Steering Committee-Emergency Services Working Group is also examining the challenges of VoIP.

VoIP also faces obstacles on the technical side, said Peter Chau, acting senior manager of IP telecom and security at Industry Canada. “”VoIP security questions are already inhibiting market growth,”” as problems like viruses, spam, denial of service attacks, information theft or eavesdropping surface, he said.

Chau also quoted warnings from IT consultancy META Group Inc.: “”Current IP telephony offerings show an alarming lack of safeguards. IT staff are not accustomed to worrying about this type of thing with voice.””

As well, said Chau, with rapid growth of VoIP services (Bell, Telus and AT&T) and equipment vendors (Nortel, Alcatel, Cisco and Lucent), “”we are going to be running into some interoperability issues.””

Industry Canada, meantime, continues to work towards resolving the difficulties of VoIP services, he added. A few years ago it initiated and chaired the International Cyber Security Symposium at the World Telecommunications Standards Association held in Madrid.

It also routinely analyzes and tests for VoIP protocol vulnerabilities and investigates risk scenarios for VoIP networks.

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