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911 Access, Voice

911 and SIP: What your business needs to know

George Perry George Perry
George Perry
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The move away from traditional, legacy phone systems to SIP and VoIP solutions is growing. Heading into 2015, cloud-based phone systems were being used by 36% of businesses, more than any other type of phone service [source]; and that percentage is only growing.

The benefits of VoIP — better cost control, mobility, and scalability, are all driving reasons for why businesses have moved their communications to the cloud, whether that’s through the use of VoIP-connected desk phones at an office or options for a mobile workforce that’s constantly on the move. But, as with all things, there are challenges that come with these benefits.

911 and Mobile Workers

The flexibility and mobility of VoIP services like SIP align perfectly with the growing trend of businesses employing remote or roving employees — workers that don’t work at the main office or work from several locations in a day, week, or month.

By moving to IP-based phone services, these employees are able to have company phones that they plug in to their home internet, or can use a softphone accessed over VPN on their computer via an internet connection.

While the ability to make and receive calls from a company-owned line regardless of your location is great for a growing, disparate workforce, it becomes a problem when someone using one of these phones needs to call for help.

Calling from a physical SIP phone

First, let’s look at someone that’s working out of their home using a phone provided by their company that’s plugged into their home internet. In many ways, this is not unlike the phones used at the main office — it’s connecting over the internet.

If, however, you’re at home and try to call emergency services from that phone, you run the risk of help being sent to where the phone is registered; most likely the main office location of your company. To address this, it’s important that a company provision the location of a phone to where it is actually located by using dynamic location routing — whether that’s in a conference room at the main office or a converted guest room at an employee’s home.

Calling from a softphone

The real challenge for 911 and VoIP comes from employees that are constantly on the move — they work from a coffee shop in the morning, a library around lunch, and a nice little cafe towards the end of the day.

Softphones, calling over your laptop using software, are a great option for these workers as they don’t have to use their personal mobile device or carry around an office phone to plug in, which improves convenience. The problem comes with verifying their location in case they need to call 911 from that line.

Unlike a phone that sits in a static location, you can’t provision a softphone to a specific location, since it may only be there for a few hours. So what are you supposed to do?

Solutions vary

To be honest, nobody has come up with a great solution yet. That’s not to say we aren’t working on it — this is a very real problem that the SIP and VoIP industry is having to work through, and it’s one Bandwidth is committed to solving.

There are a few solutions that businesses have implemented. For example, asking users to verify their location when they login is great in theory, but counts on the person knowing where they are and putting in the right location. Tracking software on devices allows for Coordinates Routing, but it raises issues of privacy and tracking during personal time. Having employees call from their personal mobile devices is a workaround, but relies on them to remember which device to use in an emergency. There’s a lot of room for error.

In short, this is a real challenge, and one that as a business you need to be aware of. This shouldn’t, however, deter you from using SIP for your voice solution. There are pros and cons to every option, and we’re always working towards better solutions for each.

Let’s work on it together

If you’re interested in working with us on this solution, let’s talk about it. Get in touch with our experts to see how we can work through a 911 solution for your business.

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