VoIP faces hurdles over 911 availability, viruses, eavesdropping and interoperability

As voice-over-IP services roll out across Canada, the industry has to work towards getting rid of obstacles that prevent people from making 911 emergency calls, according to speakers at the Canadian Institute’s recent VoIP Summit.

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

back-up generator available. It may also prevent calls from being routed to the correct Public Service Answering Point (PSAP), a communication centre that’s the first point of reception of all 911 calls, explained Michel Racicot, a partner with law firm McCarthy Tétrault in Montreal.

VoIP also has problems in filling the Automatic Location Identification (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 911 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 an e911 trial in Rhode Island last October in which it delivered both callers’ location and call-back number to 911 operators for 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-television and Telecommunications Commission has a preliminary view that certain providers of local VoIP services may not initially be able to provide 911 or e911 services, these features should become mandatory for all local VoIP service providers. Moreover, the CRTC said VoIP subscribers also need a proper warning about the non-availability of 911 service in certain regions, he explained.

VoIP also faces obstacles on the technical side, said Peter Chau, acting senior manager of IP telecom and security at Industry Canada. He said security problems such as viruses, denial of service attacks, spam and eavesdropping are “”inhibiting market growth.””

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.””

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