Insights & Resources5 min read

E911 VoIP - Requirements, Solutions, and Key Facts

For VoIP users, Enhanced 911 (E911) is critical for helping emergency services locate a caller in need.

Fiona McDonnell
Man using E911 VoIP feature
As the name suggests, Enhanced 911 (E911) is like an enhanced version of 911. Specifically, what’s enhanced is the location details of the 911 call. Dynamic E911 takes it a step further, and provides advanced 911 location services based on dynamic location routing, available in the US and Canada.

A Brief History

The 911 system was first implemented back when phones were tied to landlines. This meant when someone placed a 911 call, the address tied to the phone line was unequivocally the location of the caller. Development of more geographically flexible means of communication such as cell phones and VoIP posed a complication to this system of location identification. But 911 location services are essential to effective emergency response. That’s where emergency calling APIs — Standard E911, and more recently, Dynamic E911 — come into play.

VoIP E911 Solutions

Calls to 911 are routed to a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). E911 identifies the location of the caller and routes the call to the appropriate local PSAP, and provides the PSAP with location information, enabling emergency responders to dispatch a team to the caller location.
Standard E911 for VoIP is enabled by setting a physical address to show up when 911 is dialed, and this location can be updated if your work location changes — you may move offices or start working from home. The key thing to note here is that the address associated with the number and provided to the PSAP is static, and not necessarily a representation of live location information.
Dynamic E911 on the other hand, provides a “dispatchable location” — which is current location information consisting of street address plus additional information such as suite, apartment, or similar information necessary to adequately identify the location of the calling party — using PIDF-LO (Presence Information Data Format Location Object). PIDF-LO represents location information in SIP headers in XML format, allowing organizations to send a caller’s location information to the PSAP in IP-based 911 networks. Essentially, 911 calls can be routed according to the location of the Wi-Fi hotspot, rather than a static address that may or may not represent the caller’s actual location. This makes Dynamic E911 the ideal solution for large enterprises with callers frequently moving around multi-tenanted addresses, high rises, or large campuses.

Requirements for Enhanced 911

There are a few requirements for using E911 services. These requirements are fairly straightforward. And, if you have everything you need for making VoIP calls, you most likely have everything you need to get E911 service.
  • Broadband internet connection. The bandwidth requirements for a single VoIP line are relatively minimal, usually less than 115Kbps per line, with some variation based on the VoIP codec you use. However, some sort of broadband internet connection is most ideal for VoIP calls and E911.
  • VoIP hardware. VoIP phones, mobile phones, tablets, and desktop computers are perfectly suitable for VoIP calls. However, if you have the right hardware—adapters and cables—you can use an analog phone for making VoIP calls with E911 service. It’s worth noting, though, that digital devices are best for VoIP calling.
  • A physical address. You must have a physical address assigned to your account with your VoIP provider in order to use E911 services. Typically, your VoIP provider will require you to provide an address before your service can be activated. But, if your provider does not require an address for some reason, make sure that you have a physical address associated with your VoIP service, otherwise E911 location services won't work.

E911 Regulations By Country

International VoIP calling can be a bit tricky, because some countries place certain limitations on certain types of VoIP phone numbers.
But the E911 regulations have been globally standardized fairly well, with most nations adopting some variation of the FCC regulations. Here’s a brief explanation of the regulatory nuances across the nations with high VoIP call volumes:
United States
The only detail in the regulations for E911 service in the United States is that a VoIP provider’s E911 service must be compatible with VoIP calls that have legacy PSTN connections in the call path. A quality VoIP provider should handle this when you activate your VoIP service.
Canada
In Canada, regardless of whether you are a VoIP provider or a VoIP reseller, you must register with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission.
If you own and operate any telecom transmission facilities, you must register as a competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC). Even if you don’t have to register as a CLEC, you must obtain a basic international telecommunications license (BITS) if you connect international calls.
United Kingdom
Ofcom in the UK maintains similar regulations to the FCC in the United States. However, Ofcom requires providers to submit a letter that details their compliance procedures and submit an updated letter if those compliance procedures change.
Ireland
The VoIP requirements in Ireland are also similar to those in the UK and the United States. If you offer wireless services, though, you must send an SMS message with information about 112 services when they travel to another country in the EU.
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