VoIP’s Inherent Limitations for Calling Emergency Services
Unlike calling emergency services on a Public switched telephone network (PSTN) (which connects to emergency services and gives the operator your address and phone number), VoIP doesn't have traditional emergency services capability.
A VoIP call is just an exchange of data between IP address — and IP addresses don't have a specific physical location attached to them. So, even if you do call emergency services from your VoIP phone, the emergency operator will have no idea where you are or how to contact you.
The inherent limitations and/or inability for VoIP solutions to contact emergency services is addressed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), within the United Sates Government. The FCC cautions VoIP users and raise the following concerns:
- Portable interconnected VoIP services can be used from virtually any internet connection anywhere, which raises challenges for the emergency services community in determining the location from which an emergency call has originated.
- VoIP emergency calls may not (or will not) connect to the emergency services answering point.
- VoIP emergency calls may not (or will not) automatically transmit the user's phone number and/or location information.
- Mobile VoIP customers (laptops and mobile apps on cell phones) will not identify the correct location, for emergency services to respond properly.
- VoIP service may not work during a power outage, or when the internet connection fails or becomes overloaded.
Though the FCC’s advisory is intended for and directed to VoIP service users in the United States, the same holds true for users worldwide. Regarding international VoIP solutions, when the solution configuration, traffic and the call origination (connects to the PSTN) occurs in a different country, the call will appear to be coming from the originating country, rather than the actual country where the call has been made. Any emergency dialing codes entered will be based on the country where the call originated. Several countries recognize this limitation and require stickers placed on computers and phones utilizing the VoIP service stating that the phone should not be used for emergency services.
Microsoft Skype Software and Skype Products
Emergency calling terms and conditions
No Emergency Calls. The Skype Software does not support any emergency calls to any type of hospitals, law enforcement agencies, medical care unit or any type of emergency services of any kind, except in the very limited circumstances described in the E911: VoIP’s Solution Within the United States section of Exhibit A.
Skype is not a traditional telephone service or a replacement for Your primary telephone service. There are important differences between traditional telephone services and the Skype Software and the Skype Products. The Customer will need to make additional arrangements in order to access emergency services. It is the Customer’s responsibility to purchase, separately from the Skype Software and the Skype Products, traditional wireless or fixed line telephone services that offer access to emergency services. It is the Customer’s responsibility to inform their Users that it is not possible to support or carry emergency calls using the Skype Software and the Skype Products, and that they may access emergency services via the additional arrangements that the Customer has made available to their Users.
Emergency Services calling operates differently with Skype for Business PSTN Calling services than on traditional telephone services.
The differences in our Emergency Services calling capabilities include the following: (i) Skype for Business may not know the actual location of a caller making an Emergency Services call, which could result in the call being routed to the wrong Emergency Services call center and/or emergency services being dispatched to the wrong location; ((ii) if the user’s device has no power, is experiencing a power outage or, for any reason, cannot otherwise access the Internet, the user cannot make an Emergency Services call through Skype for Business PSTN Calling services; and (iii) although Skype for Business PSTN Calling services can be used anywhere in the world where an Internet connection is available, users should not make an Emergency Services call from a location outside their home country/region because the call likely will not be routed to the appropriate call center in that country/region.
It is important that the Customer understand these differences and communicate them to all Users of the Skype for Business PSTN Calling service. Customer acknowledges and agrees that they have read and understand the differences in our Emergency Services calling and will provide this notice to each user of Skype for Business PSTN Calling services.
SKYPE DOES NOT SUPPORT ANY EMERGENCY CALLS TO ANY HOSPITALS, LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES OR ANY OTHER TYPE OF EMERGENCY SERVICES OF ANY KIND EXCEPT IN THE VERY LIMITED CIRCUMSTANCES DESCRIBED IN THE E911: VOIPs SOLUTION WITHIN THE UNITED STATES SECTION BELOW.
E911: VoIP’s 911 Solution Within the United States
In the United States, Enhanced 911 (E911) registers your phone number with your location and sends the call to the local emergency services call center (also known as a Public Safety Answering Point). However, know that VoIP does not work when the power is out or the internet is down, which might be when help is need.
Furthermore, E911 service is tied to the location/address the Customer registered with CallTower. The CUSTOMER has the responsibility to change the location/address of the phone if the Customer moves it. For obvious reasons, laptop computers and mobile devices present a particular problem regarding E911 services. Users need to be extra careful calling emergency services from such devices.
Industry Practices and CallTower Recommendations
It is a common practice and is advisable for organizations that have a VoIP service to maintain an E911 Awareness Program for every UC Voice user, including User Acknowledgement Forms and Advisory Stickers. Such programs include: Training for every user, with periotic reminders (email, company newsletter, etc.); signed and retained record of affirmative acknowledgment by every user, both new and existing; and the placement and distribution of E911 Advisory Stickers to every user. E911 Advisory Stickers warn users that E911 service may be limited or not available when using the UC Voice solution. These stickers should be placed directly on or near all UC Voice-enabled devices (phone, desktop, laptop). Regarding the use of such warning stickers, many countries have already passed laws requiring their use. CallTower can assist the Customer in obtaining these E911 warning stickers.
Additionally, in VoIP solution environments it is a common industry practice to use a traditional landline phone or cell phone when it is necessary to call 911. Many organizations will provide strategically located and easily accessible landline phones within their facilities. CallTower strongly recommends this practice.