VoIP E911 Calls—Skyhook Wireless Offers Solution

By Joe Francica

_In early November, U.S.senators voted to grant Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers a reprieve in meeting the Nov.28 deadline by which Internet phone operators must re-engineer their systems to connect users to the enhanced 911 network.Directions Magazine received a note from Beth Winkowski on behalf of Skyhook Wireless stating that "the reason for the reprieve is that service providers claim it is not technically or operationally feasible to provide enhanced 911 service today, and more consideration must be given to rolling it out "¦ I am writing on behalf of a Skyhook Wireless to let you know this is not the case.Skyhook Wireless has developed a solution that allows E911 callers to be found -- without notifying their service provider of their new address (an important fact given emergencies are presumably not a planned event)." Joe Francica followed up with Ted Morgan, founder of Skyhook Wireless, to find out more.

First, a little background on the general topic of VoIP and E911 from author David H.Williams, CEO of E911-LBS Consulting.
"When a customer chooses a VoIP vendor to provide them with services, they are in effect replacing/relieving their local exchange carrier from its responsibility to provide local call connectivity, including connecting 911 calls to the local Public Safety Answering Point, or PSAP for short.(Remember, there is no uncertainty about what PSAP a wireline call should be associated with.) This becomes an issue with VoIP when (and only when) the user of record uses their VoIP number from a different location than their address of record).

"Thus, anyone who subscribes to a VoIP provider for their communications services - including 911 calls - has no choice as to who processes a 911 call - it is the responsibility of the VoIP service provider and no one else.That circumvents the typical processing of a call from a known, fixed address to the associated central office then routed to the PSAP.It requires a different solution.Note that regular 911 calls through a local exchange carrier will still work when power is out, because power is transmitted through the telephone line.That is not the case for VoIP; if power is out you are out of luck."
How does Skyhook's technology address the requirement? Here are Ted Morgan's answers to questions about that.

Joe Francica (JF): What arguments are the VoIP providers using (beyond the fact that "it's not technically feasible") to describe the E911 problem they are facing with respect to Automatic Number Identification/Automatic Location Identification (ANI/ALI)?

Ted Morgan (TM):
Most of the arguments were a reaction to the somewhat heavy handed requirement that if they (the providers) could not meet these initial requirements for all their subscribers, those subscribers not covered would be shut off immediately.The current deadline merely required that all subscribers must register a 911 address by hand and verify they understand the VoIP 911 limitations in written or online format.So those subscribers that just didn't respond to the barrage of emails and letters would be literally shut off that day.

Once they had those addresses, the providers would have to be able to route a 911 call to the appropriate call center.To do that they need to contract with a company like Intrado or TCS.That does require a service deal with those companies, which costs money.But nothing technically infeasible.

Going forward, the FCC was giving indications that it would push hard for regulations around nomadic and mobile 911 requirements which were giving providers heartburn.They complained loudly to their representatives, and these rulings take some of the power back from the FCC and put it in the hands of Congress.

JF: Where will Skyhook's solution be implemented in the VoIP service provider's workflow to help identify the location of the VoIP caller?

There will be a small footprint of software on the client phone (or softphone).When a 911 call is placed, that component would call our Location Server to calculate the device location.That location is passed either back to the VoIP client or directly on to the provider depending on how they implement 911 today.

Some clarification: A soft phone is a PC phone (or a PDA phone).A PC phone is not required; our technology can run on any Wi-Fi enabled device.Since each provider is working on a different Wi-Fi phone at this point, it is just plain easier to demo with soft phones.Having said that, soft clients make up the majority of VoIP calls today if you take into account all the Skype users out there.Skype represents the largest number of paying VoIP users today.

JF: What would Skyhook estimate as the cost to VoIP service providers to implement a solution for E911 within a given metropolitan area using Skyhook technology?

That is a better question for TCS and Intrado, who provide the full end-to-end E911 solution for the VoIP providers

JF: Is this really a technology problem or a political problem?

A little of both.Mostly it is symptomatic of an early market. The VoIP providers are still trying to establish their business models and are chafing at getting hit by regulation so quickly.The new FCC chairman is trying to establish himself in his new role.Congress is trying to send a message to the FCC telling them who is "really boss." The VoIP providers are going to lobby against any regulation that costs them money.

On the technical side, many people are worried about falling into the same trap that the cellular providers encountered.The FCC pushed deadlines well before there was any technology that could deliver.But on VoIP, we believe that as we work with our partners in the 911 community to educate regulators and providers on our system the concerns over technical feasibility will lessen.

Published Wednesday, December 7th, 2005

Written by Joe Francica

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