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Press ‘ANY’ Key to Continue . . . Except for 911

Inevitably, each week I get into conversations with my colleagues about the various aspects of E911, and with my good friends, that can even turn into a screaming match, mainly because I’ve got a bit of an attitude, but mostly because I’m usually right more than I am wrong. A topic that comes up quite often is the practice of user entered location for E911 calls. Now for those of you that have read my blogs before, or have known me for any amount of time, you’ll know that I vehemently disagree with user entered location information.

What I most commonly get, and this comes from people that I have a lot of respect for, is that user entered location information is better than no location information at all. And this is where I disagree. First of all, if the ability for a user to enter the wrong location was made available, I would be fearful of the abuse and spoofing that would take place every day. Even now, the hacker community has figured out that spoofing caller ID can be disruptive and create havoc within a community. In fact, the process is called SWATting some one. Based on the fact that the intent is to get the 911 center to dispatch the SWAT team to an unsuspecting residence. Just imagine the additional havoc that could be caused if hackers had the ability to control the address shown on a phone call to 911.

If you’re not concerned with the threat from hackers, there is still another reason you should be concerned about. If I’ve learned one thing about telecommunications in the last 27 years, it’s that users are basically lazy. I call it the “Press Any Key To Continue” syndrome.

anykey.jpgSociety today has been trained, by the applications we use, that to continue after a natural pause in a process, the common response is to “Press Any Key To Continue”. When we’re in a hurry, and today it seems like we’re always in a hurry, we become familiar with the pauses in an application, and without even reading the question, we simply “Press Any Key To Continue”.

What prompted me to write about this was a Google Alert for E911 that I saw this weekend. The user was having a problem activating a SIP phone at their home, and mentioned in the post that they “had a problem in activating my new phone due to a mismatch problem in my address for the E911 service. Had to put in a friend’s address to get the registration to complete.” Now what are the chances that he has to dial 911 before he fixes that address problem? I’ll let all the statisticians figure that one out, but it’s a perfect example of the “Press Any Key To Continue” syndrome.

So let’s get back to Enterprise IP phones and user entered location. I would suspect that the process of a phone booting up would at some point ask me to confirm my location, or “Press Any Key To Continue”. If I did choose to enter an address, and if that address was new to the communications infrastructure, more work would have to be done, and I might see something like “The address you entered is not set up in the system. To enter another address, Press Any Key To Continue”.

I can honestly tell you, the very first voice over IP Technology that allowed me to work at home, had this technology built into the phone. And even I, who certainly knows better, when prompted with the choice of entering my location or “Press Any Key To Continue” chose the latter. Why? Usually it was because I was running late, needed to get online immediately, and figured I go back and fix it later. Now even though I remember that happening many times, I don’t recall one instance where I ever went back in and corrected that mistake.

Now I’m not saying that location shouldn’t be entered and the endpoint. In fact, in the NENA I3 model location conveyance occurs by way of a PIDF-LO location object generated by either the call server, on behalf of non SIP devices, or by the user agent itself, the phone for example. What we need to do is control and manage how then endpoint user agent gets its location object. Ultimately, that information will come from the network within an enterprise environment, and in fact most modern data switches can provide that information to an IP phone using LLDP-MED commonly referred to as 802.1ab.

Fortunately, the process of receiving that data in an IP phone is simply a matter of the firmware upgrade, and isn’t really hardware dependent. That means it applies to hard phones, soft phones, wireless LAN phones, or even a smart phone.

To make this all happen seamlessly, and for the PSAP to be able to receive this information, a next generation 911 network in the U.S. is desperately needed. Is that still 5 or 10 years away? Not hardly. Public safety is issuing RFP’s requesting NG911 systems every week, and several states are actively building their NG911 networks today. In reality, connectivity to NG911 networks will be available soon, and I predict enterprise connectivity to those networks within the next 6 to 18 months for early adopters.

If you’re concerned about your deployment of next generation 911 in the enterprise? “Press Any Key To Continue”


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Until next week. . . dial carefully.



Mark J. Fletcher, ENP, is Avaya's Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions. With a telecommunications career spanning three decades, his role is to define the strategic roadmap and deliver thought leadership for Avaya's Next-Generation Emergency Services solutions. In the U.S., he represents Avaya on the NENA Institute Board, and is co-vice chairman of the EENA NG112 Committee in the European Union. In Washington D.C., Fletch contributes technical guidance to various committees at the Federal Communications Commission, dealing with Optimal PSAP Architecture and Disabilities Access. more

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