The Increasing Challenge of E-911

By Irwin Lazar
On Sep 26, 2013
Thursday, September 26, 2013
A lot of our recent conversations with UC architects have focused around the challenges of E-911. And it’s no surprise given that our latest benchmark data shows that 71% of companies are increasing softphone deployments, while 30% of them are replacing desktop phones with softphones. In addition, 80% are increasing support for mobile voice/UC clients running on devices like smartphones and tablets.

As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ensure that when an employee dials 911 from whatever device it is that they are calling a “phone” these days, that the call is routed to the proper public services answering point (PSAP) who has the correct user location information. Already there have been examples of fire trucks and EMTs showing up at the wrong office because someone was working from home or working from a satellite office, yet their location database still showed them at their primary office. For users of fixed line telephones, it’s pretty easy to track their location (assuming you’ve got solid MAC processes), but when a user can start their day in their primary office, then move to a conference room, then drive across town to another office, all the while using their cell phone or softphone on their laptop to communicate, tracking location in real-time presents a challenge. At the same time, several states have either adopted or are considering laws that would increase requirements on owners/operators of multi-line phone systems (e.g. a PBX) to provide information above and beyond street address, such as floor/wing, to emergency services along with 911 calls (for a good reference, check out http://www1.911enable.com/resource-center/state-e911-legislation

Fortunately there are a number of vendor-provided and third-party platforms from vendors including Conveyant, 911ETC, 911 Enable, Red Sky that can enable both the ability for softphone and mobile phone clients (over WiFi) to recognize that their location has changed, to confirm their location and to update a managed database in real-time. Each of these vendors, along with some SIP trunking vendors, offer services that manage outbound 911 call routing to ensure calls go to the proper PSAP. However, these services do add cost, complexity, and management overhead to UC plans. UC leaders will need to weigh risk, local regulations, and cost before deciding on the ideal solution for their environment. Also, keep your eye on the evolution of “next generation” 911 (NG-9-1-1) that shifts the onus of location tracking to the end-user devices themselves, and allows devices and applications to transmit their current location along with their 911 call.