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E-911 and SIP: Issues and Opportunities

Posted by Paul Desmond

Mar 20, 2015


The SIP trunk market is booming as companies are flocking to the service in order to save money and support their unified communications applications, as we reported in a previous post. But as companies install SIP trunks, they would do well to consider it’s effect on another issue: 911 emergency calls. 

While it’s well know, or should be, that voice over IP (VoIP) complicates calls to 911, E-911 services have been available for years to help companies deal with the issue. But SIP presents new wrinkles, according to a webinar hosted by 911 Emergency Telecom (911ETC), which sells E-911 services.  The good news is, the issues are far from insurmountable – and SIP even yields some additional benefits when it comes to E-911.

“SIP only enhances the 911 solution, it does not make things more difficult,” said Michael Anderson, national sales director for 911ETC in the webinar.

911 Issues to Consider with SIP

When companies move to SIP, they need to talk to their carrier to ensure they can deliver detailed location information in response to 911 calls.  An address alone is often not enough; rather, emergency responders need to know the floor the call came from, or a zone or quadrant within the building. Many SIP providers can’t deliver such granular information, Anderson said.

Another issue is use of private switch/automatic location identification (PS/ALI) services. PS/ALI services enable companies to provide detailed location information when employees make 911 calls from behind a PBX that may be serving a campus or large building. Some companies have found the PS/ALI services no longer work when they migrate to SIP trunks, he said.

It’s also a good idea to make sure your SIP provider is up to speed on E-911 legislation, Anderson noted. Laws on are on the books already in 17 states and pending in five more, he noted.

Providing 911 Services with SIP Trunks

When you sign on with an E-911 service provider who can deal with SIP trunks, you may find it brings a number of benefits.

For one, you get the failover capability that’s inherent in SIP trunks. In a network with multiple SIP trunks to different locations, should one of them fail, calls can be routed over another – including 911 calls. Customers can also use PRI lines as a backup, Anderson said.  

911ETC also offers an on-site notification capability for SIP customers. If someone calls 911, the company can send a notification to on-site security, alerting them of the caller’s location. They may be able to get on the scene prior to emergency responders, or help guide first responders to the caller’s location.

Companies can also take advantage of a testing capability to make sure 911 operators get the proper information after implementing an E-911 service. Once they load all their information into the appropriate databases, companies can place calls to 9-3-3 to test that it’s working properly, Anderson said.

E-911 services also work for mobile users on cell phones or using laptops, he said. For softphone users, 911ETC provides client software that can detect when the device is in a new location and will prompt users to update their location. Companies can even opt to disable the phone until the user provides an update.

While he didn’t provide pricing information in the webinar, saying there are too many options, Anderson did say E-911 service pricing has dropped significantly in the last several years. And he says signing on with the service means companies no longer have to pay for PS/ALI services, which will help offset the cost.

With SIP trunking growing rapidly hand-in-hand with unified communications solutions and mobility, expect to see more articles about the details of E-911 going forward.

Topics: Employees, Unified Communications,, SIP, Messaging

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