E911 Gets Wi-Fi Assist

By Eric Griffith

July 07, 2005

Major providers of 911 service for VoIP providers made strides toward E911 this week—in fact, one will use Skyhook's 802.11-based positioning to provide caller locations.

When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said in May that all VoIP providers must provide 911 emergency call services with the same features as wireless carriers—including caller location information—one question remained: how? The FCC didn't mandate how to do it, it just said to get it done.

This week, two of the biggest providers of enhanced 911 (E911) services for voice over IP (VoIP) providers made announcements about how they'll handle it.

Intrado announced that it is working with the city of New York and the local 911 provider there -- Verizon -- to create a VoIP Positioning Center model. Called V9-1-1 Mobility Service, it will route E911 calls made with VoIP software-based phones (aka softphones) or handsets directly into the standard wired 911 network. The call will then be routed to the correct public safety answering point. Intrado plans to make this service available nationwide.

Rival TeleCommunications Systems (TCS) might have the upper hand, however -- at least in major metro areas. The company is partnering with Skyhook Wireless to utilize its Wi-Fi based positioning technology to pinpoint calls that come in on VoIP services.

"TCS and Skyhook are combining our technologies so we can do [E911 with] what's called 'nomadic VoIP,'" says Skyhook CEO Ted Morgan. That is, mobile users with software like Skype running on wireless hardware such as laptops and PDAs.

Skyhook's service uses the signals from thousands upon thousands of Wi-Fi access points surveyed in metro areas to triangulate a user's location. TCS will use it to locate the caller making an E911 call using a service like Vonage or Skype.

A recent study from broadband management provider Sandvine indicated that 50 percent of VoIP traffic is still on softphones—in fact, Sandvine says Skype accounts for 46 percent of the VoIP traffic in all of North America.

Skyhook feels that the sheer number of devices using softphones on ubiquitous Wi-Fi networks and hotspots means that TCS will find the partnership justified. The high number of users means a a high percentage of E911 calls will come in on such Wi-Fi systems. If those calls are in the major metro areas Skyhook has surveyed, the user can be pinpointed instantly.

"As handsets [with Wi-Fi] are rolled out, that percentage will go higher," says Morgan.

Morgan says that TCS is handling half of all the E911 calls made today; indeed, TCS has deals with 35 wireless carriers and VoIP providers in the United States. While he was trumpeting the deal with TCS, Morgan also admitted that Skyhook is in talks with all the players in this space—including Intrado.

Skyhook has currently surveyed the top 25 metropolitan areas of the United States, and expects to have a database of 100 metro areas by the end of the year.



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