|The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts have reportedly contacted more than forty Australian VoIP providers urging them to find technical solutions so that all users have access to emergency call number. |
There are currently three emergency numbers available in Australia -- Triple Zero, which can be dialled from any fixed or mobile phone and some VoIP services, and 112, which is available from all GSM mobile phones and 106, which connects to the text-based relay service for people who are deaf or who have a hearing or speech impairment.
When a caller phones an emergency call number, the request is handled initially by Emergency Call Persons (ECPs), who determine from the caller which emergency service is required and establish the location of the caller.
The ECP then switches the call to the pre-nominated answer point for the requested emergency service organisation - this last point of the process is where problems arrive with some VoIP services.
"The family of VoIP technologies is one of a range of emerging next generation services transforming global communications and has the potential to offer consumers significant benefits in terms of price and convenience," said ACMA chairman Chris Chapman.
"It is important, however, that consumers understand the choices on offer and the differences between different types of VoIP services and more traditional telephone services."
There is a range of different means in Australia for providing telephony services over the internet, all of which provide cheaper calls than regular PSTN services. However, the technical makeup of some of these models both in Australia and overseas make it difficult to offer access to emergency call numbers.
Further, the ACMA has found that many consumers who sign up to VoIP deals aren't aware that they could be forfeiting access to the emergency 000 number.
"At present there does not appear to be a high level of consumer awareness that some VoIP services currently have limited or no connectivity to Triple Zero," Chapman said.
"ACMA and DCITA therefore have written to leading VoIP service providers seeking their views on these matters and firm indications of what solutions are available and when these will be implemented. While technical solutions are being developed, we expect a commitment from providers to undertake a range of proposed consumer awareness raising measures."
Australian VoIP-provider Engin has offered access to 000 calls through its VoIP network since the launch of its service in Oct 2004, and was the first VoIP provider in the world to offer this as a nationwide service.
"Engin sees access to triple zero as an essential matter of safety and security for Australian citizens using VoIP technology. There is no technical reason why any VoIP carrier, either local or global, is not offering this service," said a spokesperson for the company.
"This is an area where many people do not see the difference between Engin, as a VoIP provider with a carrier grade network in place across Australia, and peer to peer VoIP providers such as Skype. Engin has always offered a quality service with enhanced functionality such as access to triple zero, call forwarding, three way conversations and voicemail delivery to email at no extra cost."