In the light of the recent announcement from Ofcom that all VoIP providers must be able to provide 999 service James Bushell, Senior Product Manager at Gamma Telecom says as a well-established UK Network Provider, Gamma Telecom is deeply interconnected with BT and understands how to make a voice network deliver all the things its end-users and resellers need.
“For the last 18 months, Gamma has been applying that knowledge and expertise to develop its soft-switch based IP Telephony network, and as such has been able to build in all of the things we take for granted on standard networks. James Bushell, Senior Product Manager at Gamma Telecom, explains that one of the most important aspects of the new system is ensuring end-users have the ability to make 999 calls.
As greater numbers of players enter the IP Telephony market, there is growing concern that the ability to connect a 999 call in particular may be overlooked. ITSPs (Internet Telephony Service Providers) are well placed to gain a foothold in this new market; they specialise in developing the required software and platforms to run VoIP services. However, many of them have limited or no telephony network infrastructure and know-how, and need to work with a network provider who can offer that 999 access to their end-users. Gamma’s high standards mean that we will only provide voice access for ITSPs who meet certain stringent requirements. Without assistance, most ITSP are not able to provide a voice service which allows users to make 999 calls, and that is a severe limitation to what they can offer.
One of the main benefits for the users of IP Telephony is that it means that a phone number is no longer tied to a certain desk, office or even country – it has brought complete flexibility to SMEs, but with that comes challenges for the service providers.
In order for a telecoms company to provide 999 services there are a number of requirements they need to fulfil. Obviously, the underlying network must be set up to route 999 calls to the appropriate interconnect, but the main complexities of making 999 calls over an IP Telephony network arise around supplying the caller’s location information – the physical address from where they are calling – to the Emergency Authorities call centre. This vitally important information is when dealing with callers and is used to direct the Emergency Services to the correct location.
Gamma is required to provide the Emergency Authorities with the correct and accurate address information for each of the end-users on its network. This enables a pop-up to appear on the Emergency Authority Operator’s computer screen that details the caller’s number and address when a 999 call is received.
One way we are able to address this problem is by capturing the actual installation address of a service before it goes ‘live’. Gamma works exclusively through channel partners, so we have built a step into the ordering system to ensure our partners can quickly and easily provide us with the correct information.
Through this same system, end-users subscribed to the Gamma ‘FeaturePlus’ service and/or the serving channel partner can later alter their registered installation address. This is ideal for when a customer changes premises or is simply using the service from an alternative location in the short term (i.e working from home or a different office, or out of the country for a few days). Any changes they make instantly update the relevant Gamma database and this is passed through to the Emergency Authorities.
Gamma and its partners are also required by Ofcom to provide end-customers with information as to how our services operate differently to traditional services with regards to calling 999. Certain information must be provided to the customer at the point of signature and after the customer signs and is using the service. When Ofcom’s May 2007 consultation came out, Gamma identified the various requirements we had already met and what more we needed to do. We then set about providing this information to partners and giving them clear information on their obligations.
One of the extra steps we needed to implement was to ensure both Gamma and our partners provided labels to end-customers for equipment that connects to a Gamma IP Telephony service, to state that emergency calls may fail if there is a power cut or broadband failure. Where Gamma provides end-user documentation, such as the FeaturePlus or the Communicator online system user guide, the documentation reflects the required information surrounding making 999 calls.
There is a comprehensive list of requirements Gamma needed to consider to ensure 999 access for our products. As each of our IP Telephony products has been launched we have ensured all the obligations we anticipated have been met, as well as those presented in Ofcom’s statement, and we have been able to do this with relatively little fuss or disruption because of the experience we already have in dealing with voice telephony and the legislation that comes with the market.!