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VoIP is a very flexible telecoms solution and one of its particularly useful features is the fact that it can be diverted easily to any address or connected to from various locations. Whilst this provides users with fantastic flexibility, enabling comprehensive disaster recovery strategies and ensuring remote workers can connect easily – it poses a real problem for the emergency services.

The dynamic nature of the service means that unlike 999 calls from standard landlines (PSTN or ISDN)‚ calls from VoIP numbers don’t result in the true physical location of the caller appearing automatically on the operator’s screen. Since the VoIP service is delivered via IP‚ the caller is not necessarily restricted by a fixed location and this poses a challenge for the emergency services’ operations.

That is why it is essential to ensure your customers provide and keep location information for their VoIP users up to date. This information is then provided to the emergency services in compliance with Ofcom’s General Condition 4 and ensures the data provided to them is accurate. It could mean the difference between life and death!

Entanet partners can point customers to a white label portal to record and submit this information, or easily do it on their customer’s behalf through synergi. However, it is your responsibility to communicate the risks associated with using VoIP solutions for emergency dialling to your customers and to emphasise the necessity to provide this information.

It’s also worth reminding your customers of the other key factors that may affect their ability to dial 999 in the case of an emergency:

  • Lack of power – VoIP services are dependent on equipment (e.g. PC, ATA, IP Phone) that require a power supply which must be switched on.
  • Lack of Internet connection – Similarly, VoIP is reliant on a working Internet connection.
  • Equipment failure – When the handset or other equipment that enables your connection to the VoIP service fails, you will be unable to make calls to the emergency services.

These limitations are common to all VoIP service providers and it is essential that you advise customers of their possible inability to make 999 emergency calls. We strongly recommend that your customers have an alternative method of making emergency calls (such as PSTN or mobile) and such alternative calling methods are available on the premises where the VoIP is installed.

So is it time to remind your customers about this requirement? People move addresses or the service may have been reallocated to a new member of staff and it’s important the corresponding information has also been updated. Remember, it’s not just necessary when they first sign up for the service – it needs to be maintained. Ofcom noted in their 2011 assessment that “there remain considerable challenges” in keeping 999 addresses up to date, and that remains the case today.

Have your say!

Have you or your customers experienced any problems with regards to 999 location information? Are you already proactively reminding your customers of this requirement? Share your experiences below.

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