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VoIP Apps and Emergency Services – Are They the Perfect Combination?

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In a life-or-death situation, every second counts. Unfortunately, emergency services know this struggle all too well. Callers aren’t always clear at communicating their location, and the current methods for tracking people aren’t always reliable.

Locating callers in distress is no easy task, but new technologies like feature-rich VoIP apps are looking to change that.

While VoIP apps were criticized in the past for being unreliable—that isn’t the case today. Smartphones have made VoIP one of the best solutions for tracking people during emergencies.

How Do Emergency Services Track People Right Now?

Emergency services rely on being able to find someone as quickly as possible. But the traditional method for locating callers is often unreliable.

Landline calls will deliver specific information like an address, name, and callback number. However, most people today don’t have landlines.

The majority of calls come from cell phones. But cell phones can only provide a location within a 150-meter radius. This poses a significant problem for callers located in dense urban settings. For example, you cannot reasonably locate someone in an area where more than 50 houses could exist, primarily if the caller cannot provide identifying details.

911 dispatchers only have one solution in situations like these. They can connect with the caller’s wireless carrier to try and locate someone. Still, this isn’t always accurate either, as an individual’s location data comes from a cell tower.

All of this relies on an individual having a strong signal that the tower can ping—and even then, the data received may be inaccurate.

Situations like this happen daily, and they often cost human lives when an emergency occurs. However, these deaths are entirely avoidable and could be prevented by something as simple as a VoIP app that uses location services.

VoIP Apps and Location Services Are the Answer

Many people today value their privacy. As a result, encryption is more important than ever, with large companies so willing to take risks with our sensitive data.

This alone has turned many people off from the benefits of location services. They see a tool like this as a threat to their privacy.

And who can blame them? Large corporations have used location services as a marketing tool to collect and sell data.

But for emergency services, location services can make all the difference. VoIP technology and smartphone capabilities can significantly improve how emergency services locate and respond to calls.

A VoIP app can automatically provide a caller’s location using a smartphone’s GPS chipset. This provides an emergency service with the exact Google coordinates of your location.

How accurate is this data?

A location provided by a VoIP app in conjunction with your GPS chipset is accurate to within two meters. You can’t even compare that level of accuracy with any of the other methods that emergency services currently rely on.

Location reporting is configurable, meaning you can make it mandatory or optional for your app to assist in emergency situations.

Why Didn’t VoIP Apps Catch on Sooner?

VoIP technology was ahead of its time when it was first released. Early networks lacked the reliable connection required to make VoIP accessible. Another problem was the fact that early cell phones lacked GPS chipsets.

Location reporting didn’t become streamlined until GPS chipsets became the norm. Early VoIP apps often masked a user’s location, too, making it nearly impossible to locate them.

These problems have since been solved with modern smartphones and the rollout of LTE and 5G networks.

Smartphones are more powerful today, they have powerful GPS chipsets, and our modern networks are more reliable than ever. LTE network coverage is accessible throughout most of North America and Europe, and 5G is already being deployed in select major cities throughout these regions.

VoIP apps also include many innovative features that didn’t exist before. Something as basic as location reporting didn’t catch on until GPS technology improved. And for this reason, emergency services avoided VoIP apps because they were seen as unreliable.

But that’s all changing now.

It’s only a matter of time before VoIP apps and providers become the standard for emergency services because of the accuracy they can provide over traditional tracking methods.

What If Your VoIP App Fails or Cannot Connect?

There’s nothing stopping an emergency service provider from using traditional GSM location technology should a VoIP app fail.

Emergency services can still locate your cell phone using traditional methods, including your GSM location and cell phone towers.

But the added benefits that a VoIP app provides are undeniable. They can greatly improve the efficiency of emergency services by providing them with ultra-accurate locations.

This can mean the difference between life and death during an emergency.

VoIP and Emergency Calls Worldwide

Most countries have a system in place for emergency calls, and many VoIP services now have features to accommodate them. Although they may use 911, 112, 999, or a different country-specific number, the goal of each emergency calling system is to dispatch emergency services when required.

The United States: VoIP and 911

The FCC has mandated that all VoIPs providing interconnected services using a PSTN meet the enhanced 911 (E911) requirements. The E911 requirements dictate that all multi-line phone numbers should provide dispatchers with the information they need to accurately send first responders to the location.

Additional requirements include:

  • • 911 services are a mandatory requirement
  • • Physical location must be obtained prior to activation
  • • 911 calls must be routed appropriately based on the caller’s location
  • • Make sure customers understand any possible limitations with emergency calling and document customer acknowledgment

Any VoIP provider that is not interconnected with a public network is exempt from these rules.

The FCC also advises VoIP customers to be aware of inherent limitations of the technology, such as power outages and Internet downtimes. Services may not be available at all, especially if using a provider that does not have a PSTN fallback in place.

The United Kingdom: VoIP and 999

The U.K. offers 999 and has similar requirements for its emergency calling system as the U.S. Official policy states that type 4 VoIP providers are obligated to allow 999 calls. Dispatchable information must be transmitted to first responders.

What is a type 4 VoIP provider? These providers allow users to make and receive calls from traditional fixed phones or mobile phones. This interconnection necessitates allowing customers to reach 999 as consumers will expect it to work in a life-or-death situation.

Ofcom, the U.K. organization responsible for telecommunications, is also implementing a compliance monitoring system to enforce these regulations. This monitoring system will streamline compliance checks to make sure all VoIP providers equip customers with the services they need.

The organization is currently evaluating the effectiveness of current policies, especially as the country moves away from traditional landlines. The purpose of the 999 regulations is to make sure all U.K residents have access to emergency services when using VoIP services.

In addition to similar rules in the U.S., Ofcom is also considering enforcing battery backup policies and other measures to improve the reliability of VoIP services in emergency situations.

The European Union: VoIP and 112

The EU offers 112 for emergency services and recently launched Next Gen 112. The EU has similar requirements as both the US and UK, requiring PSTN-connected VoIP providers to send dispatchable information to emergency centers.

However, the EU is also focusing on upgrading the technological capabilities of emergency contact centers themselves. The goal is to allow 112 dispatchers to receive video calls in addition to their traditional workload. The mission is to allow those in need of emergency services to use any form of communication to get the help they need, making use of the latest features of VoIP services.

E911 and Next Generation 911 Compliance

As new features are developed and deployed, the purpose of E911 and NG911 is to make sure these features are fully compliant with 911 regulations. Not only that, but these two new 911 regulations will make use of these capabilities to improve services.

All multi-line phone systems in the US are already required to comply with E911 regulations, the foundation for sending dispatchers with the information required to quickly locate the caller.

NG911 is an upgrade to the entire system and is an entirely digital and IP-based system. The goal is to replace the analog 911 infrastructure with a more reliable digital foundation.

Cloud Softphone — Build Your VoIP App Today

Cloud Softphone makes it easy for emergency services to create a white label VoIP softphone appthat is reliable and feature-rich.

Any real-time communication app created through our portal is capable of calling 9-1-1, providing detailed location reporting, and can derisk emergency situations.

While most callers will provide their location and address, this isn’t always the case in an emergency. A 150-meter radius is too large during a stressful emergency. This level of inaccuracy costs human lives every day.

Emergency services need better methods for collecting this data. VoIP apps and providers that are paired with location reporting technology are one of the most reliable solutions on the market. This technology empowers emergency services to respond to calls quicker by providing them with hyper-accurate location data. You never have to guess where an emergency is when you can locate it within two meters.

Are you interested in building your own feature-rich VoIP app? Get in touch with the Cloud Softphone team today to learn more.

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