Consultants Analysys Mason are conducting a study on behals of Ofcom into determining the location of Voice over IP callers making calls to emergency services. It is is easy to determine the location of a caller is in the old fixed line world because a phone number is recorded based on the location of a piece of copper “plugged” into the local telephone exchange.
This is not the case with VoIP. A VoIP number could be anywhere on the planet. Anywhere there is a connection to the IP network/internet that is. Ofcom recognises this and wants to understand whether there is a practical solution.
UK technical standards organisation NICC has published (Jan 2010) a potential solution to the problem though this is complex and also limited to VoIP users using UK ADSL connectivity.
This solution stems really from network architectures familiar to large telcos and my first reaction is that it is very expensive. One might ask what price a life? This is a reasonable question. We all have grannies and nobody wants ours to be the one in the burning building dialing 999 only to find that the fire engine has gone to the other end of the country.
The counter is the same as is used for website blocking. Not only is it expensive but it is going to be fraught with problems. The expense is also going to stifle innovation and prevent new entrants into the market. Most Internet Telephony Service Providers are still very small companies.
There is more. The system relies on UK IP addresses being used. In calling round some industry contacts to discuss this problem I discovered that the use of non UK IP addresses is quite common. One large telco often uses blocks of IPs that originate in France. USA based IPs appear in the EU and vice versa. Bring on IPv6 do I hear you say?.
IPv6 may help. I can see the day when everyone has their own personal IPv6 address/block just like they have their own mobile phone number today. It probably still won’t do enough to provide location data though.
I realise that none of this helps Ofcom. I will be responding to the survey but don’t believe that here is realistically even a medium term solution to this problem.