I see that another infant has died because a VoIP call wasn't properly routed to a 911 operator. Situations like this caused some very extreme results for US VoIP carriers - Vonage wasn't allowed to accept new customers for a couple of months until they sorted it out!
Every time I see one of these stories, I try to come up with a solution. Here's what I would do for this problem.
There are a couple of problems in the current solution that need to be solved. First, the call was routed based on the customer's billing data. That isn't accurate in the VoIP world. It's not even accurate in the fixed line world! Many people have phones that are billed to PO boxes or businesses that are not the physical location of the line. Second, E911 has the ability to locate an individual caller. Without that, if the call is disconnected, or the caller cannot speak, the 911 operator has no way of determining where the person needing help is.
First, the easy one. Routing based on billing data. This is pretty easy, DON'T DO IT!
We need to find some reasonably accurate geolocation data in a VoIP call. Thankfully, it's right there. The source IP address. Home VoIP will be at the end of either a cable or DSL modem. Either is a physical port. With a static IP address, it's well defined where they are. Even with a dynamic address, the address range is still geographically limited. Definitely accurate enough to select a 911 call center.
We can make use of commercial IP address geolocation databases to route to the nearest 911 operator. There are existing commercial databases that provide just this information. However, the data may be inaccurate. So, you add the data to the call. You now have a call with location data of the call and the billing data. If they disagree, you route based on the IP address and inform the call center to verify the region information.
Perhaps it's too simple a solution. VoIP telephony people (and most Internet people) view the Internet as a cloud, they don't trust IP addresses to identify locations (Telephony people have the opposite problem, they put too much trust in the phone number.)
However, society has started using IP addresses as not only identification of location, but of a specific user too. For an example, have a look at the RIAA lawsuits in the US. The IP address is sufficient to sue an individual for copyright infringement. It is used to identify not only the location the connection is made from, but to make a reasonable assertion to the identity of the individual!
So, current commercial IP address geolocation products have the information we need to properly route 911 calls to the local call center.
How do we get E911 levels of location accuracy? To do that, we need the help of the ISPs.
Remember, everyone is connecting through DSL or cable, or some other fixed-line connection. We will deal with mobile later. That means that the ISP has a mapping between the IP address and the physical port (at least for DSL, cable too probably). However, gaining access to this data will require government regulation and probably some money changing hands (carriers bill for 911 services).
If this database is also made available to the 911 operator, then we have a complete system, a database that maps an IP address to a call center, and then on from the IP address to the physical location. There is probably even a standard that we can use, since E911 services for mobile phones have the same problems.
So, what about mobile? Well, in the mobile world, we still have the IP address to location mapping, and the carrier still has the IP address to physical location mapping. However, it is a little more indirect. There is a mapping from IP address to phone number, and then the carrier can use their existing E911 services to locate the actual device.
Is any of this even expensive code? No, it isn't. That's the interesting bit. It's all information that is added on to the existing 911 call. Even without a correct geolocation of the IP address, the call center operator can still correct the problem by asking "Where are you?". This system will be there to provide additional information to the 911 operator, not replace them. Since the 911 operator themselves are a key component of this solution, additional training will undoubtedly be needed, including a change in some of the scripts they read from. Adding the city to the address for confirmation would solve many problems.
Where does this break down?
- VPN - If the phone is in a branch office, that routes IP traffic through a VPN to a different POP, it won't work. However, they've already got this exact same problem with corporate PBXs anyways, this isn't new.
- Calls from outside of the jurisdiction. If someone takes the device overseas to use it for cheap (free) long distance.
- Carriers making frequent changes to their routing rules. If a subnet moves from one region to another, 911 calls may have the wrong location until the database is updated.
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