SIP • Last Updated 5/17/2024

Understanding standard and dynamic E911 for VoIP

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

Kelsie Anderson

By Kelsie Anderson

Man using E911 VoIP feature

The 911 system was first implemented in the 1960s, 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 (Voice over Internet Protocol) posed a complication to this system of location identification. Since 911 location services are critical to effective emergency response, it was essential to find a way to assign locations to all call, including those made over VoIP.

That’s where emergency calling APIs—Standard E911, and more recently, Dynamic E911—come into play. The integration of Enhanced 911 (E911) services with VoIP technology has significantly improved emergency response capabilities for VoIP users.

In this blog post, we’ll explain E911 for VoIP, exploring its requirements, regulations surrounding its use, and the challenges faced in its implementation.

Understanding E911 and VoIP

E911 is a service that automatically provides a caller's location information to emergency operators when dialing 911. VoIP is a technology that enables voice communication over the internet. By combining these two technologies, E911 for VoIP ensures callers can access emergency services efficiently and accurately, even when using internet-based communication.

How E911 works

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. It then provides the PSAP with location information, enabling emergency responders to dispatch a team to the caller’s location.

Standard E911 for VoIP is enabled by setting a physical address to show up when 911 is dialed. This location can be updated if your work location changes. For example, 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.” A dispatchable location is the caller’s current location information, consisting of the street address plus additional information such as suite, apartment, or similar information necessary to adequately identify the location of the calling party.

Dynamic E911 uses PIDF-LO (Presence Information Data Format-Location Object) to represent location information in SIP headers in XML format. This format allows 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 capability makes Dynamic E911 the ideal solution for large enterprises where callers frequently move around multi-tenanted addresses, high rises, or large campuses.

E911 VoIP requirements

If you have everything you need to make VoIP calls, you most likely have everything you need to get E911 service. But we’ll go over the handful of straightforward requirements for using E911 services below.

A 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 ideal for VoIP calls and E911 because it allows for the transmission of wide bandwidth data over a high-speed connection.

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 to make VoIP calls with E911 service. But it’s worth noting 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 you can activate your service. Without a physical address associated with your VoIP service, your E911 location services won't work.

E911 regulations

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has established guidelines and regulations to ensure the seamless integration of E911 with VoIP services. Key requirements include:

Automatic Location Information (ALI)

ALI significantly enhances the effectiveness and reliability of emergency services for internet-based communication. When a VoIP user dials 911, ALI ensures their location information is automatically transmitted to the appropriate PSAP.

Registered location information

VoIP users are required to provide their physical addresses during the registration process to ensure accurate location information. By registering their physical address with their VoIP service provider, users ensure the correct location information is available to emergency responders during a 911 call. This address serves as the primary reference point for ALI and helps provide accurate data to the PSAP.

As VoIP users can make calls from various locations using the same phone number, having a registered location on file helps emergency services identify the user's primary location. Users are encouraged to update their registered location information whenever they change their physical address to maintain accuracy.

Call routing

To comply with FCC regulations, VoIP providers must route 911 calls to the nearest PSAP based on the caller's location. Call routing ensures emergency calls are directed efficiently and accurately to the appropriate PSAP responsible for dispatching emergency services in the caller's area.

Requirements can differ by country

International VoIP calling can be a bit tricky because some countries place limitations on certain types of VoIP phone numbers. Fortunately, E911 regulations have been globally standardized fairly well, with most nations adopting some variation of the FCC regulations.

Below, you’ll find 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’re 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 U.K. maintains similar regulations to the FCC in the United States. However, Ofcom requires providers to submit a letter detailing 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 U.K. and the United States. However, if you offer wireless services, you must send an SMS message with information about 112 services when they travel to another country in the E.U.

Challenges in E911 implementation for VoIP

Those who want to leverage E911 for VoIP face a few main challenges and limitations, including:

Dynamic location updates

The nomadic nature of VoIP complicates the process of providing accurate location information during emergency calls. One main issue is when users fail to update their registered location information with their service provider. Forgetting or neglecting to do update location information can lead to providing inaccurate location information to emergency responders during a 911 call.

Limitations of current location detection technology, such as GPS, can also hinder accurate dynamic location updates for E911 calls. And finally, some users may not be comfortable with the constant monitoring and sharing of their location information, creating privacy concerns. Balancing the need for accurate location data during emergency calls with privacy considerations adds another layer of complexity to the issue.

Network congestion

Network congestion can directly impact the quality, reliability, and timeliness of emergency calls made through internet-based communication systems. A congested network can lead to calls of reduced quality, which can make it difficult for 911 operators and callers to communicate effectively during an emergency situation. Call reliability is also an issue here, as dropped calls mean a severed critical connection between a caller and emergency services and a delayed emergency response.

Addressing this challenge requires the implementation of robust network infrastructure, traffic management strategies, and coordination among various stakeholders to prioritize emergency calls and maintain the reliability of E911 services for VoIP users.

The future of E911 and VoIP

To address existing challenges and enhance E911 services for VoIP users, emerging technologies and innovations are currently under development. Key advancements include:

Next Generation 911 (NG911)

The NG911 initiative aims to upgrade and modernize the existing 911 infrastructure to enhance the capabilities, efficiency, and reliability of emergency communication systems. NG911 is designed to support the evolving communication technologies and preferences of the public, such as texting, data sharing, and multimedia messaging, while also improving the overall performance of emergency response systems.

A key feature of NG911 is replacing the traditional circuit-switched 911 networks with a more flexible, resilient IP-based network. The IP-based network architecture of NG911 will enable better system resiliency and redundancy, ensuring emergency communication systems remain operational and accessible even during natural disasters, cyberattacks, or other incidents that may disrupt traditional 911 networks.

Updating this network would also allow for multimedia communication, providing multiple channels for the public to access emergency services and enabling more effective communication during emergency situations.

Finally, to improve the accuracy and speed of determining a caller's location and ensure emergency responders can quickly and efficiently reach those in need, NG911 will incorporate advanced location technologies.

Enhanced dynamic location tracking

New versions of E911 will leverage advancements in technology and communication protocols to provide enhanced dynamic location tracking. Several key improvements, such as incorporating a variety of location technologies (GPS, Wi-Fi positioning, Bluetooth beacons), will contribute to more accurate and reliable location information during emergency calls.

New E911 systems will also leverage device-based location information, such as GPS data from smartphones, to improve the accuracy of location tracking. NG911 could also leverage the growth of IoT and smart city infrastructure by integrating with various connected devices and sensors in the environment to enhance location-tracking capabilities. For instance, data from smart traffic lights or security cameras can be used to corroborate and refine the caller's location information.

Finally, improved call routing algorithms can ensure emergency calls are directed to the most appropriate PSAP based on the caller's real-time location, helping to optimize emergency response times and resource allocation.

Improved network resiliency

Efforts are being made to enhance network infrastructure and minimize the impact of congestion or connectivity issues on E911 services for VoIP users. Addressing these challenges will ensure the reliability, availability, and performance of emergency communication systems.

The IP-based networks that are part of NG911 initiatives can better handle network congestion, rerouting calls dynamically, and maintaining connectivity even when certain network components fail. Implementing redundant network elements and failover mechanisms ensures that if one part of the network becomes unavailable or fails, the E911 system can seamlessly switch to a backup component or alternate route.

Implementing Quality of Service (QoS) mechanisms across VoIP networks can also alleviate the impact of network congestion on emergency calls. By prioritizing emergency calls over other types of network traffic, QoS mechanisms can ensure E911 calls receive the necessary bandwidth and resources for reliable, high-quality communication.

Finally, implementing advanced network monitoring and security measures will help detect and prevent potential threats, such as cyberattacks, that could compromise the availability and reliability of E911 for VoIP services. Proactive monitoring and security measures ensure emergency communication systems remain operational and secure.

Enable E911 with your VoIP services

As the technology continues to evolve, E911 for VoIP will undoubtedly adapt to meet the growing needs of users and enhance public safety. By understanding E911’s regulatory requirements and staying informed about future advancements, users can fully benefit from this life-saving technology.

One of the easiest ways to ensure your E911 capabilities remain up to date and top of the line is to partner with a VoIP provider who will help you remain in compliance with all existing E911 regulations. Telnyx’s E911 services adhere to Kari’s Law and RAY BAUM’s Act. Standard E911 services are available across all our numbers, and all American and Canadian numbers have access to Dynamic E911 capabilites.

In addition, Telnyx can give you peace of mind about one of E911’s biggest challenges: network congestion. Our private multi-cloud network offers a reliable, resilient pathway for all your communications—from everyday conference calls to potentially lifesaving emergency calls.

Contact our team of experts to learn more about Telnyx’s VoIP services and all they can offer your business.

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