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Ofcom proposal to require VoIP providers to offer '999' service
Thursday 26 July 2007 14:07:29 by Sebastien Lahtinen

Ofcom has this morning announced a consultation on requiring VoIP operators (i.e. companies offering telephone calls via the Internet) to offer access to the emergency services via the '999' operator in the same way as on standard land lines. The requirement would apply to those companies who offer services which allow calls to be made to normal telephone numbers, so those who only offer calls to other VoIP users are likely to be exempt.

At present, VoIP operators can voluntarily offer 999 services but there are requirements placed on them which have discouraged some from doing so due to costs implementing the system. This has caused confusion with customers not being sure whether their VoIP phone will allow them to make 999 calls or not, which could cost precious minutes in an emergency. Ofcom has already required the companies to inform users if they cannot make such calls from their phones. It is also important to note VoIP services tend to rely on electricity so their use as an emergency phone is already more limited.

"All VoIP providers are very supportive of the need to connect 999 calls, but OFCOM need to balance idealism and realism. It would be impossible to put all the VoIP operators through the BT acceptance testing in such a short time frame, not to mention hugely expensive".

Peter Gradwell, gradwell dot com Ltd.

Ofcom believes the position has now changed because:

  • Since the previous consultation, there has been an increase in VoIP use with 10% of UK households having used VoIP in Q4/06
  • Developments are making VoIP technology "look and feel" like traditional phones (indeed some mobile phones can now make VoIP calls)
  • A significant proportion of VoIP consumers were confused about whether they would be able to dial 999, many thinking they could when they could not

VoIP is not really the ideal platform to make emergency calls over at this point in time, but this change could still assist many in emergency situations. We would always recommend that a land line is used where possible and if one is not available, a mobile phone should be the second option. If you do use VoIP, be aware of the risks and ensure your provider has your up-to-date address information they can pass to the 999 operator.

The Ofcom consultation can be found here.


Posted by brightd over 9 years ago
"It is also important to note VoIP services tend to rely on electricity so their use as an emergency phone is already more limited."

So do all of the wireless phones that most people use. I do have a old wired phone which I have used when the power has gone off but I suspect that most people would rely on a mobile.
Posted by pmilford over 9 years ago
There are a lot of things in the Ofcom document. One section notes that locations should be passed on 'where this is technically feasible'.

Another notes that the BBC use software to identify the location of an IP address down to a local (town) level in order to validate requests for licensed materials . Umm - interesting. I wonder how on earth they do that. Doesn't match my expectations.

A pity there is not more confidence in the technical data rather than the requests for 999 by ACPO, RNIB etc.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
Arghhhhh I have an emergency, their is a massive fire. I know hold on one minute while i plug the pc in, connect up to the net, plug in my USB VOIP phone and dial 999 LOL...
Pointless idea if you ask me. Not only that but the likes of the Police and Fire service whinge year in year out (maybe rightly) about false 999 calls, with this system they aint even going to be able to track where a 999 prankster calls from (atleast not without alot of investigating which of course costs money).
Posted by ramsgatonian over 9 years ago
With reference to Carpetburn, surely this is no different to payg mobiles, you can register the sim card to any old name and addess. The supplier makes NO checks before connecting the SIM to the network, so the Emergency Services have no correct information, other that the 'mast location' .
What a sad situation has been allowed to evolve, with the regulators crawling along 20 years behind.
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