Emergency call location for IP telephony
For a long time, emergency calls from IP corporate networks could not be correctly located. With “Location ID”, Swisscom is the world’s first service provider to offer a solution to this problem. Helvetia Insurance is already using location ID.
Text: Christoph Widmer, Images: Daniel Brühlmann, 27 February 2018
Correct assignment of emergency calls used to work well on conventional ISDN lines: because each phone number is assigned to a single location, emergency call centres could pinpoint the exact location of incoming calls using a database. In contrast, locating and thus routing emergency calls for IP telephony was not guaranteed for a long time. That is because IP telephony enables “nomadic” use: users can make calls with the same phone number from different devices and locations. All they need is an internet connection, which is why emergency calls could no longer be assigned correctly. Moreover, all emergency calls from a corporate network went to the same location, regardless of where the call was made. “For a long time, it was impossible to assign calls clearly as with ISDN lines,” explains Martin Wittmann, ICT system engineer at Swisscom. A solution had to be found as to how emergency calls could be traced accurately for corporate networks across Switzerland, including in the course of converting to All IP.
“Thanks to location ID, if an emergency call is made, we can forward it to the nearest emergency call centre.”
Martin Wittmann, ICT system engineer at Swisscom
This is why Swisscom developed location ID: all locations where VoIP devices are used are registered in a central database. Each company location receives its own location ID, which is linked to the building’s IP addresses. “We assign the respective IP range to a location ID,” explains Wittmann. “Thanks to location ID, if an emergency call is made, we can forward it to the nearest emergency call centre and write the address and coordinates in the central emergency call database. The emergency call centre then retrieves the corresponding information from the emergency call database. Swisscom is the first telecommunications service provider in the world to offer a solution for the correct assignment of IP emergency calls. As technical standardisation is necessary for consistent routing of VoIP emergency calls, Swisscom’s solution will set the European standard for emergency call location.
In the future, location ID will no longer be used only by Swisscom, but also by other internet service providers. Standards for the exchange of emergency call location from telecommunication networks already exist. “It will be years before they are regulated and integrated, though,” explains Beat Egger, programme director of emergency call systems at Swisscom. Egger advises companies, however, to start making the necessary arrangements already. “Choose a telephony system which takes into account the nomadic use by your employees and can therefore handle emergency calls correctly. Depending on the size of your company, there are corresponding PBX solutions. The manufacturer can advise about that.”
Even if the solution is used extensively, its limits are set: with location ID, IP calls cannot be assigned correctly when the caller is on the move. “The home office can be assigned a location so that it is treated like a company location,” explains Egger. “If the employee is on the move somewhere in Switzerland, however, we still use the company’s main site for assignment and location of IP emergency calls, with the note that it concerns a nomadic user.”
Location ID is already in use at Helvetia Insurance. With some 80 agencies in Switzerland, it, too, relied on secure emergency call location, not least because its employees are also changing job location more and more frequently. “As IP telephony no longer requires manual adjustment of call number ranges, it reduces our administrative workload and connection charges,” explains Jörg Steinbrunner, Corporate IT Operation at Helvetia Insurance. “With location ID, we can also ensure that all emergency calls go to the right exchange.”
To implement it, Helvetia Insurance first had to introduce “Device Mobility”. It enabled the internal location of all devices by means of an IP address. As that is now assigned dynamically and Helvetia always uses the main company number “058”, the dial plan also had to be configured accordingly so that emergency call centres could locate the calls. The solution was tested using a newly established test number from Swisscom, which provided the correct address and telephone number for incoming calls.
“With location ID, we can also ensure that all emergency calls go to the right exchange.”
Jörg Steinbrunner, Corporate IT Operation at Helvetia Insurance
Helvetia is aware of the limits of the solution. They therefore prohibit WiFi telephony features – to protect all employees working outside the corporate network. So that location ID can pinpoint a building or building complex, but not the specific workstation, they also use an additional solution: “We use an internal emergency call during the day,” explains Steinbrunner. Normally, this is selected first - and it allows Helvetia to make logistical preparations for the auxiliary staff. “Although we rarely have emergency calls,” states Steinbrunner, “location ID means we are always ready in case of emergency.”
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