What is VoIP (Voice Over IP)?
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone services are not as new as you might think. Internet Protocol based telephony has existed for many years on the internet, but the quality and reliability were often poor and typically required the user to make and receive calls using special software on their personal computer.
Significant strides in technology and the rapid infiltration of broadband internet connections into many homes has made VoIP a viable competitor to traditional telephone company voice services.
What’s required for VoIP?
First and most importantly, to take advantage of VoIP services, you must have a broadband internet connection and a special piece of equipment that connects your phone to your broadband connection.
This equipment is often a separate device provided by the VoIP service provider, into which you existing telephone connects. However, many providers are starting to offer phonoes with this equipment intergrated into the telephone.
How is VoIP different?
VoIP, in many ways, looks and works just like a regular phone. The primary difference between the two is how your voice is transported for “here to there”.
With traditional telephone service your conversation, for the most part, is analog and is connected over a single static pathway over the public switched telephone network.
In contrast, VoIP telephone conversations are almost entirely digital and may take one or more different paths over the internet, or private network, to reach the called party. At the other end of the line, the packets are reassembled and converted back into analog voice signals, and sent over the public switched telephone network to the telephone device. If everything works as it should, the call participants will never be aware of the dynamic call routing and audio conversion that is taking place.
How does VoIP access 9-1-1 emergency services?
FCC Mandate 05-116 states that all VoIP service providers must enable 9-1-1 calling and provide callback location and information. Some VoIP providers have yet to meet these FCC requirements.
Currenty, there are two ways your VoIP call can be processed:
- With VoIP basic emergency calling, the call is not routed to your local 9-1-1 center on emergency lines. Instead, it is sent to a remote private call center or a non-emergency line without location information and possibly without your callback number. This type of call processing can delay an emergency response.
- VoIP enhanced 9-1-1 calling is routed over a dedicated 9-1-1 network and arrives at your local 9-1-1 dispatching center with both customer registered location and callback number.
How do I know what level of 9-1-1 service I have with my VoIP phone?
You need to research the features of your VoIP service as it pertains to emergency dialing by accessing the service provider’s website, Search the providers website for “emergency calling”. Once you are aware of the 9-1-1 limitations, you need to notify all potential users of the phone (spouse, children, babysitters, etc.)
How is my 9-1-1 call routed to the correct location?
When you sign up for VoIP you must register your location. In order for 9-1-1 emergency dialing to work properly, the service address of file for you MUST correspond to the physical location of your VoIP phone. This will enable your VoIP service provider to identify your 9-1-1 dispatch center. You cannot specify a P.O. box.
What if my 9-1-1 call is misrouted to the incorrect 9-1-1 dispatch center?
If your VoIP 9-1-1 call is not routed to the correct 9-1-1 dispatch center, you should tell the telecommunicator the city, county and state where you need help. The telecommunicator can attempt to transfer your emergency call to the correct dispatch center. It is a good idea to know what police, fire or sheriff’s department is responsible for your 9-1-1 calls and have their 10 digit phone number on hand to provide to the call taker.
Does 9-1-1 know where I am calling from on my VoIP phone?
It depends. The first information you will need to provide or verify for the 9-1-1 call taker is your location, name and telephone number, especially if the emergency service personnel does NOT have this information available automatically. When this occurs, your call goes to a remote private call center or non-emergency line at the 9-1-1 center, which is different from how traditional 9-1-1 calls are routed.
Can I call 9-1-1 from my VoIP phone when I’m traveling?
You VoIP provider may offer the ability to travel with or move your VoIP service to take advantage of any location with broadband internet access. Your VoIP service provider should offer at least one way to update your registered location. However, the time it takes to update or make any changes to your registered location varies greatly. If you relocate your VoIP phone on a temporary basis, such as taking it with you when you go on a trip, don’t use it to get emergency help. Use another telephone to dial 9-1-1.
What if my 9-1-1 call is disconnected or cut off?
Unlike traditional 9-1-1 service, the 9-1-1 call taker may not be able to call you back if you are disconnected. They may not have access to your phone number. If you are disconnected, hang up and dial 9-1-1 again.
Do service outages affect my ability to call 9-1-1?
They may. Just as your regular cordless phone will not work without power, your VoIP phone may not work without power either. As a result, you may be unable to make any calls, including those to 9-1-1 during an electrical power outage.
Do I need to notify someone if I move?
Yes. When you move, you must update your registered location on your service provider’s website. It may take several days to update your record.
Should I keep my traditional phone line after I subscribe to VoIP service?
Yes. 9-1-1 industry leaders recommend that you keep your traditional phone line in addition to your VoIP phone service in order to successfully access 9-1-1 services and to have telephone access during a power outage.
Do I need to tell anyone in my family that I have changed our phone service?
Yes. It is very important that all persons that live in your home understand the differences in emergency calling with your new VoIP service. Children and babysitters always need to be educated on how to call 9-1-1 in an emergency. You might want to post your phone number and address by the phone for easy access.
Can I make a 9-1-1 test call from my VoIP phone?
Before doing so, please contact your 9-1-1 dispatch center on their non-emergency line. Confirm that you are in their 9-1-1 jurisdiction and then ask if you can place a test 9-1-1 call. Most dispatch centers will comply with this request as long as they are not too busy with other emergency calls at the time. They may ask you to place your test call at a certain time.
Information provided in part by 911VoIP.org.