VoIP services must offer 999, says Ofcom
Calls for regulatory framework
Ofcom today proposed that all VoIP phone services allowing users to make calls to ordinary phone numbers must also offer access to make 999 emergency calls.
In research carried out by the UK communications regulator, VoIP users were found to be very confused by what phone numbers they would be able to access in the event of an emergency.
Ofcom, which has been consulting on its approach to regulating the VoIP industry since February 2006, said 78 per cent of people had no idea they were unable to access 999.
Although some VoIP phone service providers, such as BT and Vonage, already include the option for their users to access the emergency number, other providers opt out of offering it.
It said only 64 per cent of households were currently able to gain access to 999 via VoIP phone services.
Concerns have been expressed by the communications watchdog as people increasingly adopt VoIP to make phone calls they would have traditionally made through landlines.
It said a lack of awareness about some service providers' decision to exclude the 999 number could leave users vulnerable in an emergency.
Ofcom estimated that the cost of VoIP providers allowing users to call 999 would be around 90 pence per household per year.
Of course, the big headache for the regulator is that, unlike other telcom services, VoIP is not bound by national borders.
Ofcom said it is working closely with its European equivalents to put a regulatory framework in place.
Meanwhile, the communications watchdog announced today that it has appointed a new chief operating officer.
Jill Ainscough joins Ofcom to fill the slot left vacant by Ed Richards, who became chief executive in 2006.
She was previously managing director at broadband firm Easynet and takes up the COO post on 7 August. ®
@Jeff et al. I'd really like to hope Ofcom won't go down the line of demanding certain numbers are registered to a geographic location. OPTA in the Netherlands used to do this but industry pressure because of VOIP moved them to a 'best efforts' clause and this is likely to soften further if it hasn't already done so.
If VOIP providers would agree to use ENUM you could solve the issue fairly quickly and route to a nearby emergency operator. Many countries also allow a prefix from the telco to determin which emegency central the call gets routed to. It's a question of them wanting it and understanding VOIP. So few telcos really understand it yet that they aren't able to do much pressuring. It's more the old ISPs who have been gobbled up by telcos that stand a better chance to adding pressure to Ofcom here.
Users need to weigh up the risks
As long as users are informed that they can't call the emergency services, then it is their decision to decide whether or not to go with VoIP.
The choice is there, they are not being forced into it.
My DECT base station is powered via a UPS so it'll survive at least a couple of hours with no mains power. Not a typical solution, but certainly shows what can be done. At the moment it shares with a computer, but a properly-designed DECT backup battery system would probably keep it going for several days.