VoIP being blamed for Toddlers Death in Calgary

Many media outlets throughout Canada are reporting on a sad story in Calgary where an 18-month old boy died after waiting more than 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. The boy’s Aunt called 911 immediately upon recognizing that her nephew was in distress, but because the family was using VoIP telephone service, the call for help did not go to Calgary EMS… instead it went to a different call centre, somewhere else, and help never arrived. It wasn’t until the neighbour called 911 on a regular analog telephone (after 15-20 minutes of waiting) that Paramedics were actually dispatched.

The VoIP service in this case was provided by a company called Comwave who are similar to companies like Vonage who provide unfacilitated VoIP.

I’ve talked about this issue for a long time in dozens of seminars, in media interviews and on this blog. I think that the marketing of these VoIP services is incredibly misleading… Many people only find out after a burglary, or in this case, after they try unsuccessfully to call 911, that there are very real risks of using VoIP service.

The quick explanation of the issue, in my opinion, is this:

VoIP service can be broken down into two different ‘types’… Facilitated VoIP and unfacilitated VoIP… ‘facilitated’ services are provided by cable companies like Shaw (with their Shaw Digital Phone service) who have their own network, whereas providers like Comwave and Vonage are ‘unfacilitated’ and send data over the internet.

The important distinction is that with ‘unfacilitated’ VoIP providers NEITHER 911 OR YOUR ALARM SYSTEM WILL WORK. In terms of marketing talk to try and gloss over that fact, Comwave refers to ‘Enhanced 911′ service on their site…. when you read the FAQ section, it’s clear that the ‘enhancement’ that they refer to is that when you call 911, your call will not go to 911, but instead to their (or someone’s) 3rd party monitoring station who will then try to re-route your call to the local 911. Rather than spelling out the very real risk that their service provides, they instead refer to that risk as an enhancement. Unfortunately, that is typical in the VoIP industry. Obviously, the family of the boy who died did not know about how this ‘enhancement’ could impact them.

I’ve written a lot about Shaw Digital Phone, enough so that they sent me a C&D letter to stop using their logo… but at least 911 will work with their service. The main issue that I have raised with Shaw is the inconsistency of the speed of alarm signal transmission over their network… and also that they market their ‘facilitated’ VoIP as not being VoIP… which is completely untrue. Although it is understandable why they would try to distance themselves from the Comwave and Vonage’s of the world, the fact still remains though that their service is a form of VoIP.

The bottom line is that if you use any form of VoIP, you need to test your alarm and, more importantly, know exactly where your 911 call will end up. With respect to your alarm system, some form of wireless communication should be used… either cellular back-up, or for our clients, BLINK mesh radio.

Your security is in your redundancy … and if you are looking to save a few dollars on your monthly phone bill, make sure you know exactly what risks might come along with a lower price tag.

To read more about what I’ve written on this topic, click on the following:

Does anyone know that your alarm isn’t working?

Shaw Digital Phones and Alarms

Shaw Digital Telephone Services Affect on Alarm Systems

Rogers Home Phone vs. Shaw Digital Phone

Clear as a bell one day, fuzzy and garbled the next

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