By Lori MacVittie, Senior Technical Marketing Manager
This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY
None of my adult children have a land line. It is unlikely they ever
will – or will even consider it. They’re millennials, and grew up in a
digital world where phones are mobile, kept in your pocket, and used for
texting and social networking and web access, not calling mom to see
how she’s doing.
It’s unlikely that they – or others sharing their view on
communications – have considered what that means to their ability to
obtain emergency services should they need them.
When organizations first started moving toward a converged network
comprising both voice and data, the uproar over emergency services was
heard loud and clear. Emergency service systems were designed to tag
phone numbers to specific addresses for rapid response, based on the
premise that a physical wire actually connected the phone to a location.
But that’s no longer the case. The increasingly unwired nature of
technology ignores that premise and ultimately breaks the system. E911
was developed to address this disconnect and systems were added that
were able to use geo-location through techniques such as triangulation
as a means to pinpoint an address. VoIP complicated things yet again,
and the sometimes inaccurate databases tying IP addresses to locations
frustrated implementers. The addition of tablets and Wi-Fi-enabled
phones only serves to exacerbate the difficulties emergency services has
with trying to identify the location of a caller in need of assistance.
Though most phones and tablets are enabled with GPS, the data from
which could be used to solve this problem, many users are reluctant to
allow any application to share that data or have turned off the
functionality because of its tendency to draw too much power and drain
battery reserves faster than they can update Facebook.
In North America, location is determined by querying the automation
location information database, maintained by third parties (typically
the ILEC). Data from the ALI can be used to route the call to the
appropriate local authorities as well as determine the location of the
caller. Except the way in which the ALI is updated is not necessarily
compatible with mobility. It’s not necessarily updated in real time,
which means despite the availability of up-to-date GPS coordinates from
most mobile devices, a call to emergency services might tag you as being
at home, when you’re really at the local Dunkin Donuts.
That’s a problem, and one that’s increasing as VoIP becomes more
popular as a means to communicate, especially for millennials. VoIP even
on mobile phones is common with the next generation, and the rising
popularity of tablets (which do not come with phone numbers) encourages
the use of such peer-to-peer (especially as they’re generally free)
There is a growing need to find a longer-term solution to the problem
of locating a caller that is accurate in real-time across both the IP
and traditional carrier space. A more modern solution may require a
radical change in the networking layer to support the inevitable
transition of more and more communications to a digital format.
Perhaps we can take a cue from the lowest levels of the networking
stack and geo-stamp packets much as we timestamp them. Perhaps there’s a
need for a new Ethernet type, the E911 type, which clearly indicates
packets carry time-sensitive, critical calls for help.
A more network-oriented solution – given that almost all emergency
traffic flows over networks today – may be the answer to resolving the
disconnect between the two worlds. Giving infrastructure the ability to
geo-stamp a specific traffic type may provide the best answer, given the
preponderance of availability of such data from devices whether
accessing services over the Internet or a carrier’s cellular network.
The emergence of LTE makes this possibility even more likely – and achievable – given the
convergence under the covers of voice and data running on the same
It seems feasible, then, that network infrastructure play some role
in ensuring that calls for help – whether via VoIP, SMS, or cellular –
be identifiable when mixed in among traffic carrying status updates and
streaming video of cats dancing to the latest Lady Gaga tune.
Lori MacVittie is senior technical marketing manager at F5 Networks (www.f5.com).