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The telecommunications and IT industries are marshaling resources to improve emergency 911 calling via voice over IP, and at least one project in the works takes advantage of Wi-Fi for location identification.

The collaborative effort among some of the biggest names in telecom and IT comes in response to stepped-up interest by policy-makers in ensuring that VOIP meets public-safety needs.

With the exception of nursing homes, day-care centers and other health-related facilities, the availability of 911 dialing from the office phone is not a top priority for most businesses.

Still, legislators and regulators are considering requiring VOIP providers to implement 911 capabilities, which could drive up the cost of the services. The long, often-tortured experience of wireless carriers forced to deploy federally mandated 911 capabilities is something VOIP developers and service providers hope to avoid.

Officials of Intrado Inc., of Longmont, Colo., joined AT&T Corp., Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp. and about a dozen other members of the Voice on the Net Coalition last week in urging the government not to transfer decades-old telecom requirements to VOIP. Instead, policy-makers should embrace methods developed in the private sector to ensure that goals such as 911 access are reached, the coalition said in a letter to the White House.

The group last week released a document updating the latest advances in VOIP 911.

The problem in delivering 911 calls via VOIP is that neither the phone number nor the calling device—often a laptop computer—corresponds to a fixed location and that the traditional 911 structure routes a call according to a caller’s address. Workers who use their laptops at a home office, at their corporate headquarters and on the road, for example, use the same number and device regardless of location.

Today, VOIP providers offering 911 access rely mostly on systems that require users to update their calling devices with their current locations, but several companies are developing more automated technologies.

Some technologies in the works incorporate satellite-based GPS (Global Positioning System), while others take advantage of Wi-Fi deployment to enable 911 calls.

“We’re seeing a number of folks out there who say that old regulations apply to new technologies, ” said VON Coalition spokesperson Jim Kohlenberger in Washington. “It doesn’t make any sense to apply a broken system to these new innovations.”

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