Insights & Resources4 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. Learn more about the FCC's e911 requirements and everything else you need to know about e911 for VoIP.

Fiona McDonnell
Man using E911 VoIP feature
Briefly, enhanced 911 (e911) is a 911 location service for VoIP calls. VoIP calls connect through the internet.
Since the traditional methods of locating the source of an emergency call don’t work for calls connected through the internet, e911 enables you to use your VoIP phone numbers to make 911 calls.

Finding an e911 VoIP Solution

You have options in choosing an e911 VoIP solution. When you’re assessing the available options, look for these key features:
  • Enhanced e911 VoIP location services. Your e911 VoIP solution should be capable of sending additional information to emergency services, or forwarding the information to the front desk or dedicated end point, that locates the specific PBX phone or office where the 911 call originated.
  • Centralized control interface. It’s most efficient if you can control your e911 service using the same interface that you use to control all the other aspects of your VoIP service.
  • Next generation 911 (NG911) compatibility. Eventually public safety answering points (PSAP), otherwise known as dispatch centers, will be capable of receiving texts, images, and videos. And you want your e911 VoIP solution to be forward compatible with this technology.
  • Legacy network compatibility. Although VoIP calls connect through the internet, some call routes require calls to use the public switched telephone network (PSTN) to some extent. It’s important that your e911 service is compatible with VoIP calls that use the PSTN.
An e911 VoIP solution with all of these features will be the most capable and easiest to use, which is just what you want from any communications solution.

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.
If you’re already making and receiving calls using your VoIP service, you should be all set for e911. But feel free to audit your VoIP service if you’re unsure about your access to e911 services.

FCC Regulations For e911

Responsibility for e911 regulations has been assumed by the FCC. The FCC has outlined these e911 regulations for enhanced 911 services:
  • E911 services must be provided as part of your VoIP service. Customers are not allowed to opt-out of e911 services.
  • A physical address must be obtained from customers for each fixed VoIP number before activating that number. An easy method for updating address information must also be provided for customers.
  • Customers must be informed that their e911 service has limitations, if there are any limitations. Customers must also confirm that they have been informed of the limitations.
  • Connect 911 VoIP calls to the appropriate emergency call center, even in areas where emergency service providers are not capable of receiving location information and callback numbers through digital connections.
The good news is that your VoIP provider is responsible for complying with these regulations.
However, the wrinkle here is that you may be responsible for ensuring that your provider is complying with these regulations if you resell VoIP services to your clients. If you’re a VoIP reseller working with a VoIP carrier that is non-compliant, you could be liable for e911 non-compliance fines, which can be as high as $130,000.
So, it’s worth asking your VoIP provider a few questions to make sure that they’re within compliance.

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.
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.
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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