Friday, July 27, 2007

Ofcom (UK) VoIP providers should provide 999 emergency service

Similar to 911 and e911 services in the USA, the British counter part 999 now requires VoIP providers to provide e999 services.

Ofcom today published proposals to require certain types of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service providers to allow users to call 999 by early 2008. This follows research revealing that as many as 78% of VoIP users who cannot use their service to call 999 thought they could, or did not know whether they could.

Ofcom proposes that any VoIP service allowing users to make calls to ordinary phone numbers must also offer access to 999.

Ofcom wants to ensure that users of mainstream VoIP services do not suffer as a result of trying to dial 999 using a service that does not offer them access. If they had to then locate an ordinary landline or mobile phone, users might face a delay of seconds or minutes in getting through to emergency services, which could prove critical.

Some VoIP providers – for example, BT and Vonage - already allow users access to 999. For other VoIP providers, Ofcom estimates the cost of allowing their users to call 999 is likely to be around ninety pence per household per year.

Confusion and lack of access

Ofcom’s research shows that only 64% of UK households with VoIP use a supplier that provides 999 access.

VoIP services are increasingly adopting the look and feel of traditional telephones, which increases the risk of confusion as to whether or not users have access to 999.

There are four main types of VoIP services:

  • ‘Peer-to-peer’ services that make and receive calls to other PCs and connected devices (Type 1);
  • ‘VoIP Out’ services which allow users to make calls to ordinary phone numbers but not receive them (Type 2);
  • ‘VoIP In’ services which allow users to receive calls from ordinary phone numbers but not make them (Type 3); and
  • Full-service VoIP which allows users to make and receive calls to and from ordinary phone numbers (Type 4).

Under Ofcom’s proposals, providers of types 2 and 4 services would be required to offer access to emergency services.

Unlike other telecoms services, VoIP is not bound by national borders. That is partly why these measures are reflective of current initiatives underway across the EU. Ofcom is working closely with other European regulators to ensure that VoIP providers enjoy the maximum degree of regulatory consistency possible.

The deadline for responses is 20 September 2007. The consultation, along with accompanying research, can be found at


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