September 08, 2011, 11:41 AM — The Internet engineering community is close to solving the thorny technical problem of identifying and routing emergency calls over the Internet similar to how they are handled over the regular telephone system.
After five years of development, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is putting the finishing touches on a standard and an overall architecture that will support Internet-based emergency calling.
This is an important development given the explosive growth of Internet calling. A June survey by Pew Research Center indicated that nearly a quarter of U.S. Internet users -- 24% -- have placed calls online, and on any given day, 5% of Internet users go online to place calls. However, today's VoIP services don't always send the physical location and telephone number of the caller when they connect them to emergency call centers.
The new IETF standard fixes this problem by determining the physical location of a device that is making an emergency call over the Internet and uses that information to route the call to the appropriate emergency call center.
Called Location to Service Translation (LoST), the standard was designed for use with any nation's emergency calling system, such as 9-1-1 in the United States, 9-9-9 in the United Kingdom or 1-1-2 in the European Union. LoST was created by the IETF's Emergency Context Resolution with Internet Technologies (ECRIT) working group.
The LoST standard and related documents will undergo interoperability testing in November through the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), which oversees emergency calling in the United States.
"There's been a fair amount of interest in LoST, especially in the United States," says Richard Barnes, a co-chairman of the ECRIT working group and a computer scientist with BBN Technologies. "LoST is written into NENA's standards for next-generation 9-1-1 services."
One advantage of LoST is that it will support multimedia communications, including voice, text and video. It also will work with any device connected to the Internet.