The Best VoIP Technology and The Great E911
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When it comes to Voice over IP, everybody likes a common thing: buzzwords! It starts from “T.38”, and ends in “E911”. The sad truth is however, most people don’t know what these buzzwords actually mean. It also does not help that most providers don’t bother to educate their customers about the subject.
The customer, is led on by various providers, quite literally like sheep to slaughter… They are being told “yes- we have E911! we are the perfect choice for you! you can count on us!” when the fact is that more often than not even the provider is not entirely aware of the limitations of Voice over IP 911. In this article, I shall attempt to list some major concerns and risks when choosing to rely on VoIP E911.
There are simply too many possible points of failure:
1. Let’s start close to home – or better yet – in your home! Anything from a faulty network cable, router, adapter, or other such piece of equipment may bring your voice line down. If you’ve ever tried VoIP I’m sure you know what I’m talking about – it’s not, and will never be as reliable as POTS (Plain Old Telephone System).
2. Carrying on in your home… one thing we cannot live without these days is electricity. With POTS or cellphone, you are not dependent on electricty to power your phone. With VoIP however, no electricity means no phone! Want to dial 911 during a power outage – or worse – someone deliberately cutting off the power to your house… tough luck, no dialtone!
3. And while we on to electricity, don’t think this problem is isolated to your home alone. A power outage can happen anywhere: your house, the node serving your DSL or cable internet, the provider’s data center, or the E911 provider’s data center. Sure- these days most providers have redundant servers and some even have geographic redundancy, and data centers have generators and other such neat equipment designed to keep you rolling. This is all great in theory- until you find out that the generator didn’t kick in, and it took 15 minutes to switch over to a backup data center. 15 minutes is not a lot – but it may become a lot when your life is on the line!
4. Let’s hang on a bit to your internet provider.. we’re not done with them yet! if you’re like me, you experience an internet outage every few weeks. It can last anywhere between 5 minutes, to a whole day! No internet means no VoIP service, and no VoIP service means no E911!
5. And how about the provider’s internet? their data center? their DNS servers? their SIP servers? some providers can be very reliable… but things do happen and outages are not unheard of even with the biggest of providers.
6. Now that we’re done harping on about ISPs, why don’t we take a look at the weakest link – the E911 provider! while I am sure they do their best to ensure reliability, let’s face it – there is no competition in the field. There are a total of 4 real E911 providers in the entire country – all the rest are resellers (read: clueless!). This industry is so new that glitches are bound to happen – and continue to happen for years to come. As a VoIP provider – I can ensure proper routing, high availability, and various other methods to get as close as we can to 100% uptime – it won’t matter one bit if the E911 provider’s server is down.
7. E911 providers are not VoIP providers. This is a bad thing. Why? A VoIP provider delivers thousands, tens of thousands, or even more than that per day. If something is broken – it is soon found – and fixed. An E911 provider deliver very few calls per day, meaning they do not get the sort of production validation a VoIP provider does. Things can be broken for half a day and they’d think “just a slow day”.
8. Things about the sheer number of things that have to be in place to deliver your E911. Call correctly: your gear at home has to work correctly, your ISP has to work correctly, the backbone along the way has to work correctly, the provider’s data center, servers, and internet connect has to work correctly, the VoIP provider’s interconnection with the E911 provider has to work correctly, your telephone number has to be pre-input correctly in the E911 provider’s database, the E911 provider’s servers have to work correctly, the E911 provider has to match your address to the correct PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point), and the E911 has to interconnect properly with the PSAP to deliver the call.
With so many factors and potential breaking points – should a customer really expect to be able to pick up the phone and reach 911 in an emergency? I don’t believe so. And I think it is time providers and regulators alike stop lying to themselves and lying to the nation. VoIP is not POTS, will never be POTS, and will never be as reliable as POTS. Trying to regulate providers into offering E911 will achieve nothing but the delusion of safety among consumers. Such delusion is even more dangerous as consumers end up believing they are safe, because the regulators say so!
The bottom line is: E911 is not reliable. Do yourself a favor, and ignore the buzzwords and hype. If you want to dump POTS – get a cheap cellphone – even a prepaid one – to act as a backup for E911. Do not rely on E911 alone under any circumastances!
I wish you all a very safe, enjoyable experience with Voice over IP!.
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