E911 Hosted Solutions Featured Article
911 Turns 45, as Bandwidth Looks to the Future
By Rich Steeves, TMCnet Web Editor
Just over 45 years ago, on February 16, 1968, the first 911 call was placed in Alabama. We all know that 911 is a critical service, but it’s also common knowledge that emergency response technology has not kept up with other voice tech. As the telecommunications space has changed – AT&T (News - Alert) breaking up into Baby Bells, for example – the 911 model has stayed the same. But with the increasing popularity of mobile and VoIP communication technology, 911 needed to make some serious changes.
Under the guidance of NENA, a new generation of 911 was created to accommodate new technology. At the same time, the business model changed as well. States could decide from whom they wished to buy services, and while many of the larger telcos did not invest in 911, companies like Bandwidth.com (News - Alert) stepped in to fill the void and meet the needs of the states. Recently, I spoke to Ray Paddock, VP of emergency portfolio at Bandwidth about the current state of 911 and its future.
Bandwidth recently won a bid in the state of Alabama, as the state government there was able to move forward and obtain money to push forward and modernize Alabama’s 911 technology. The state has a reliable, resilient network which takes into account traffic patterns and peak volume loads. There are two SIP network facilities, one each on Huntsville and Montgomery, that process calls for distribution to PSAPs. Each PSAP selects its own equipment and the entire model functions on a hosted system.
Paddock explained that Bandwidth has a long history in the 911 space. As early VoIP players like Vonage (News - Alert) decided there was a need to provide 911 services, Bandwidth stepped in when the larger providers would not assist in this area. It became an economic issue, as converting calls from one form to another created a cost barrier. But as SIP gains traction as an end-to-end network, it will lower the cost barriers for providers, and Paddock states that the safety arm of the FCC (News - Alert) is both knowledgeable and sensitive to costs, looking at all issues to help ensure that next gen 911 is available across the country. In its capacity as a wholesale provider, Bandwidth works with companies ranging from RingCentral and Vonage and 8x8 (News - Alert) to Google and Skype. Paddock says the company wishes to do the right thing, providing complete service packages to meet the needs of customers and regulatory needs as well.
One area that will show growth in the near future is text-to-911. Originally conceived as a way for hearing-challenged individuals to communicate in an emergency, the increasing popularity of text messages as a method of communication has made this a necessity, piquing the FCC’s interest. As the process evolves to make this available for everyone, this will be a part of next generation 911 across the country, as public safety embraces wireless, wireline, VoIP and over the top players. This is a vital area of course, as we have seen 911 outages during crises like Katrina and Sandy. Text-to-911 can be useful in these circumstances, as these messages can be pulled in faster and handled more easily by operators, providing the ability to prioritize based on keywords.
For the past 45 years, 911 has been a part of our lives. In the future, it will evolve, but with the help of companies like Bandwidth.com, it will still give us the peace of mind and help protect us and our loved ones in times of need.
Edited by Brooke Neuman