January 22, 2019

Laura Phillips Discusses Emergency Capabilities of Wireless Technologies

Washington, D.C., partner Laura Phillips wrote an article for Bloomberg Law titled “Why Is Your Smart Speaker Dumb When You Want To Call 911?” The article explores the challenges inherent in equipping recent communications technologies, such as cell phones, VoIP systems and smart speakers, to make 911 calls.

Since the 911 dialing convention was designed for landline phones, the system of routing calls to a local Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) does not transfer seamlessly over to IP-based wireless technologies. For example, Multi Line Telephone Systems do not pinpoint a caller’s exact location within larger spaces, such as corporate campuses or high-rise office buildings. The FCC is currently considering whether to make it a requirement for these systems to provide more specific location information PSAPs. The FCC has also been discussing the problem of VoIP services that partner with 911 apps. These apps also may lack specific location information and therefore could lead to misrouting of 911 calls.

The FCC is currently encouraging the deployment of “Next Generation 911,” a system that would allow 911 calls or texts to be made from any internet-connected device and processed by PSAPs. One question is whether “smart speakers” can or should be part of this. As Laura explains, there are several stumbling blocks making this unlikely – smart speakers typically don’t have phone numbers or a means for the 911 dispatcher to “call back,” the speaker. Also, they don’t have the GPS capability that would make it possible for PSAPs to pinpoint the caller’s location.

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