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Emergency code may not cover VoIP customers

25 Mar 2010

ICT Minister Steven Joyce is calling on telcos to sign up to an industry code on 111 services that fails to properly address issues with customers using VoIP services.

Joyce is urging telcos to endorse the Telecommunications Carriers Forum (TCF) Emergency Services Calling Code – even if they aren’t members of the organisation. But telcos offering a PSTN service aren’t the only ones offering voice services – there are a number of VoIP providers in the market whose customers may not be catered for in the Code.  Under traditional PSTN systems the billing address and the location of the household/office is the same, but under VoIP they are can be different.

Cameron Beattie (pictured), the founder of Conversant – a niche provider of virtual PABXs to small businesses – describes it as a “fraught issue” and says that emergency calling is “impossible to interact with.”

“If I wanted to provide information about the location of our customers to the emergency calling system I can’t,” he explains. “The mechanism is all done through the telcos so the fact that the bill may go to one place but I know my customer is located in five different offices – I could provide that information, [but] there’s no mechanism for doing that.”

TCF chief executive David Stone says that this is an ongoing and unresolved issue. Under the Emergency Services Calling Code in order to have a Code compliant service it needs to meet certain criteria, which includes location. “If the service does not comply, customers are to be advised that the service does not comply with the Code at the point of sale so that they can make an informed choice,” he says. “VoIP by its nature does not normally meet these criteria.”

But Beattie says it shouldn’t be that difficult. “It’s not like we’re leading the world with this, there are models internationally.”

Beattie brought up the issue of emergency calling during a general discussion with Telecommunications Review about numbering governance and the TCF’s move to take over from the current body in charge of numbering, the Number Administration Deed (NAD).

“More importantly we [should] adopt something that’s been done elsewhere and not try to be unique. I think that internationally most jurisdictions have central regulation and then administration may be by a third party and that’s what I’d like to see. Under the government rather than a telco body," Beattie says.

The members of the TCF working party that devised the Emergency Services Calling Code are Telecom, TelstraClear, Vodafone and WorldxChange.

Stone referred TR’s query about VoIP and emergency services to the NAD, and we have sort comment from them on this issue.