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Squawk Box May 2

Friday’s always a slow news day, and today was no exception. However, there was one notable story that we discussed on the SquawkBox this morning, and that was the latest VoIP and 911 tragedy. This time a toddler died in Calgary after the family moved, taking their VoIP ATA with them, but failing to update the emergency services address. Some will view this as a matter of personal responsibility, but I don’t subscribe to that logic. Networks do keep track of devices that unattach and reattach elsewhere — DHCP addresses have to be given out, PPOE sessions have to be initiated and so on. Moreover, service providers know the addresses of the people they send their bills to. It’s clear that if there was the will to create a solution, then one would be created. The tragedy is that each time this happens, as Aswath Rao commented on the LiveWall during our call, we all wring our hands, but nothing is done to address the issue.

It’s time something is done. We will return to this issue on the SquawkBox. For now, the best recommendation is to call 911 from a cellular phone, rather than a landline in circumstances where you don’t know for certain whether the land line is a voice over IP line. UPDATE: See David Beckemeyer’s comment below about the speed with which cellular 911 responds.  His recommendation is to call the local emergency services — police, fire, etc.

Some of the other stories we discussed:

Adobe making Flash and Flash Light free to mobile device vendors. If true, this could totally change the dynamic for mobile application development.

Microsoft and Yahoo! Ballmer says Yahoo! is a nice to have, not a need to have. So Yahoo is an accessory like cufflinks or earrings? This evening it appears that the companies are at the table and talking.

The reports that Xobni walked away from being acquired by Microsoft. They were worried about becoming just another Outlook feature, and have grander ambitions.

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • David Beckemeyer May 2, 2008, 9:08 pm

    Alex, Cell phone 911 is a terrible recommendation. There have already been many many tragedies reported in the news caused by lack of response or other screw ups using cell phone 911, far more than such incidents than with VoIP 911. Cell phone 911 almost never knows where you are and routes to a (very large) regional generic center and they get so many false alarms that it's rare to get priority. Cell phone 911 is great for reporting a dead deer but flat out dangerous for life threatening situations. It's the worst possible alternative. Please only dial 911 in a life threatening situation on a cell phone as a last (very last) resort.

    If you are in your own house, you know whether you have VoIP or not. If it's a real landline, use it – landline 911 works and will result in a priority response in most cases. If it's VoIP well then you know that too and you should probably get rid of it and get a landline again if you think you might need 911 someday.

    Anyone with a cell phone, I implore you to program in your local police dept. number into your cell phone and use that instead of 911. The local police can hot transfer you to fire or ambulance much quicker than the regional mobile 911 PSAP can (assuming you aren't still on hold with the cell phone 911 by the time the ambulance and fire truck arrive, which was the actual case recently when my son was injured at a wrestling tournament and I dialed 911 on my cell phone while my wife called the local police dept. number on hers – emergency services were on the scene as a result of my wife's call and I was still on hold with cell phone 911, having not even spoken with a human yet).

  • Paul Emond May 2, 2008, 10:15 pm

    Alex …

    As a business VoIP provider myself and a director of the CAVP (The Canadian Association of Voice Over IP Providers), I don't agree at all with your assertion that you should avoid dialing 911 on VoIP lines. This was a tragic but isolated incident. What doesn't get reported is that there have been tons of successful 911 calls over VoIP since the new Basic 911 regulations were put in place (at least 2 on my service alone .. and Versature has NO residential clients so we don't see very many 911 calls at all).

    The CAVP has been working within the CRTC working groups along with the telcos, cablecos, independent ISPs, and the PSAPS to find a solution for E911 for Nomadic VoIP for the past 2 years. I find it a little difficult reading comments from people who haven't been participating, haven't been offering their time and knowledge, and are quite frankly a little naive about the huge technical issues that are being addressed in the working group. The "It’s time something is done" comments coming from a number of circles assumes that the different stakeholders are doing nothing. "E911 for Nomadic VoIP" is actually a very active group and is completely open to the public. Please feel free to contribute your time to finding a solution .. conference calls are usually held monthly and occur over 2 full days. 😉

    The CAVP has been fielding interviews over the past few days from media outlets all over Canada. If at some time you'd like to do a follow up to your call from today to talk about the technical issues and proposed solutions, I'd be pleased to join you.

    Best regards,
    Paul Emond – Versature

  • Alec May 3, 2008, 2:43 am

    Thanks Paul. I will take you up on that.

  • Alec May 3, 2008, 6:39 am

    Great to hear your experience David, and your recommendation. I haven’t experienced cellular 911, but it doesn’t sound good!

  • Brad Templeton May 4, 2008, 3:11 pm

    The right idea is to put the location in the right place.

    What should be defined is some DHCP tags where a DHCP server can tell you what it knows about your location. For LANS, that will be exact, for an ISP it might be your billing or service address pulled from radius. Or it might be “I don’t know” or nothing. It could also be more generic geographic location from what it knows about how you connected at layer 2.

    Then VoIP devices could receive that, and toss it in the headers of calls to numbers defined as emergency numbers. Of course a VoIP provider would pre-configure the phone to know what the local emergency number is, usually 911 or 999.

    This would have solved the problem above, since the VoIP provider could then notice how the address coming from the phone (which it got via DHCP from its new ISP) doesn’t match the billing record, and it could decide which to send to the PSAP, or perhaps even to send both if that protocol allows it, which I doubt.

    With this protocol you could take your phone into a starbucks, dial 911, and it would work, with no GPS.

  • Alec May 4, 2008, 10:11 pm

    Stay tuned Brad. I may have some guests in the know who will be able to explain the solutions being proposed.

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