VoIP nomads go in search of emergency services

Canadian voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers who asked federal regulators for more time to implement full support for 911 emergency service are mainly satisfied with the 45-day extension they were given in late May.

In early April, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications

Commission (CRTC) gave carriers who offer fixed local VoIP service (service that comes with a phone number native to the area where the customer is) 90 days to implement 911 service comparable to that offered by local carriers in the area.

It also told those who provide nomadic VoIP service – which allows customers to take their service with them anywhere broadband Internet access is available and use phone numbers outside the calling areas where they would normally operate – 90 days to implement interim solutions that provide at least the equivalent of basic 911 service.

The commission also gave VoIP service providers 30 days to apply for extensions to that deadline. Six companies did so: BananaTel Communications; Globility Communications Corp.; MTS Allstream Inc.; Primus Telecommunications Corp.; Saskatchewan Telecommunications (SaskTel); and Vonage Canada Corp.

The deadline would have fallen in early July, but the CRTC granted a 45-day extension to August 17.

Vonage Canada had two main reasons for asking for more time, said Joe Parent, vice-president of marketing and business development. First, the company is working to meet similar requirements in the U.S. and wanted to co-ordinate its efforts on both sides of the border. “Vonage is an international company, so we wanted to make sure we were doing things properly and in such a way as to meet our requirements not just in Canada but internationally,” Parent said.

Second, said Parent, the CRTC decision will require operators like Vonage to have live operators intercept calls to 911 and verify the caller’s location, instead of relying on a database of location information provided by customers in advance. This is designed to ensure calls are not incorrectly routed when a customer is using his or her VoIP equipment from a different location – what are sometimes called nomadic calls – but it means the company will need to set up call centres to handle those calls. Having to do so on short notice would have put Vonage at a disadvantage in negotiating with call centre outsourcing providers, Parent said.

Parent said Vonage is comfortable with the 45-day extension and expects to be able to meet the requirements by the new deadline.

Ted Chislett, president of Primus Canada, also said setting up a call centre to intercept emergency calls from nomadic or “non-native” customers – those with phone numbers in area codes that don’t correspond to their physical locations – will take some time. Chislett also said Primus needs a little more time to inform its customers about the limitations of 911 calls on VoIP phones and obtain their consent as required by the CRTC decision.

He said the 45-day extension should be sufficient to meet the CRTC’s requirements. “That is exactly the time period that we requested,” Chislett said.

Chris Peirce, senior vice-president of regulatory and government affairs at MTS Allstream, said his company was “pretty comfortable” with most of the original CRTC decision, but had some questions about 911 support in nomadic VoIP services. The decision “opened up a few questions about what a carrier is expected to do,” he said, and MTS Allstream wanted a bit more time to clarify the answers.

There might be problems with access to the necessary data to make 911 work on nomadic VoIP services, Peirce said, and it would be best if the industry came up with a co-ordinated approach.

Michelle Englot, a spokeswoman for SaskTel, said her company “just felt that we needed additional time to field test and verify the functionability and reliability of the technology.” SaskTel is fairly close to putting 911 capabilities in place for its VoIP services and should have no trouble meeting the extended deadline, she said.

“We wanted to make sure we had looked at all the alternatives that are out there,” she said.

Parent said the improvements the CRTC has called for still add up to “an interim solution.” In the long term, he said, independent VoIP carriers need access to the 911 tandems, or trunk lines, that are designed to provide location information to emergency services operators and currently are accessible only to incumbent carriers. There is also work to be done to find the best technical solutions to pinpointing the origins of nomadic calls.

While some have suggested using the satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS) to identify where nomadic calls are coming from, that won’t work inside buildings, Chislett said. One option might be to require nomadic customers to enter a physical address in order to activate their phones, he said.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

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