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The Skinny on VoIP and 911 Calls

By now, you’re well aware of the benefits that VoIP provides over your normal home phone, but choose a VoIP company carefully. The safety of your family could depend on it.

Whether you’re just learning about the amazing benefits of VoIP, or you’re excited to order your new VoIP service, it’s important to understand how 911 and VoIP work together so that you are prepared when and if an emergency strikes.

With standard landline phone service, 911 calls get routed directly to a dedicated network reserved only for 911 calls. As calls travel through this special emergency circuit, they are linked to the "Automatic Number Identification/Automatic Location Identification" database which means that all relevant caller information is immediately passed to the 911 operator so that emergency response can find the caller quickly and easily, even when the caller is incapacitated or cannot speak. This is the basis of the 911 system upon which we’ve all come to rely.

Unlike calls on your standard phone system, VoIP calls enter the telephone system through a data gateway that converts digital packets of sound into analog signals that make up a standard call. Because VoIP calls enter the system as data and travel through completely different paths than standard landline phone calls do, they don’t get routed through the same special emergency circuit. Instead, they first pass to a large server bank, and are then sent to the landline system from there.

Most providers’ 911 service (if they offer it at all) isn’t real 911 service. Instead of your calls being routed to the special emergency circuit, they’re typically sent to a police station or municipal administrative lines – places that aren’t equipped to handle real emergencies in a timely manner. According to this informative article from Slate magazine, some providers route 911 calls to “number that are answered only during business hours; at other times, callers get a message telling them to dial 911.”

At this point, the only technology that safely combines the benefits of VoIP with the safety of a proper 911 system is “Enhanced” 911 (E911) service. Sadly, most major VoIP providers don’t offer E911. The safest VoIP choice you can make is to choose a provider who offers “Enhanced” 911 (E911) service. Packet8 is the first Internet residential telephone service to offer E911 service which automatically routes calls and automatic computer-based "screen pop-ups" of caller information to emergency personnel at local Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs). Because Packet8's E911 call data is routed as emergency traffic and is accompanied by E911 caller information, callers receive the same response from emergency personnel that they are accustomed to receiving from legacy, switched telecommunications 911 services provided by traditional telephone carriers. Packet8's E911 also provides emergency operators with a caller's location information. This information could be vital for cases where the caller is unable to reveal or communicate their whereabouts because of the emergency condition.

So before you choose your VoIP provider, be sure you understand what E911 is and how important it is for you and your loved ones. To read more about Packet8’s E911 service, click here. And, to be safer still, just keep your cell phone handy as well -- just in case.

Read the slate article here.