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Vonage Adds 911 Calling to Net Phone

The absence of emergency 911 calling capabilities within VoIP telephony has been a huge barrier to large scale adoption of Internet phone services but a small New Jersey-based firm thinks it has found an answer.

Vonage, which sells SIP-based VoIP service to broadband users, is testing a new technology that promises 911 calling capabilities, complete with location-based connection to Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP).

Vonage's Emergency Calling Service won't exactly offer Enhanced 911 capabilities, which provides 911 dispatchers with additional information on wireless 911 calls but will allow a system to route emergency calls to the nearest PSAP.

The service could be rolled out for the company's 18,000 subscribers by the end of April.

"The idea is to have a manual way of determining where our customers are and routing their 911 calls to the correct public safety entry point," Vonage VP of product development told internetnews.com.

Existing e911 service is tied to a physical location, allowing the police or fire department to see the actual phone number and address when a distress call is made. But, because Vonage lets its subscribers choose their own area codes (a user in New York can have a California area code), it's not possible to directly link up with the PSAPs.Vonage plans to implement technology that will pin the service to a physical address. For example, even if a 911 call is made in California from a New York (212) area code, Vonage's technology will still determine the physical California address and route the emergency call to a public safety access point there.

The addition of 911 calling is a huge boost to Vonage's efforts to position its Digital Voice service as a legitimate alternative to traditional phone companies. Before now, VoIP on high-speed connections has been marketed strictly as a secondary line service but, with the addition of 911 calling, it makes it an easier sell to consumers and small businesses.

Vonage's Digital Voice, which offers flat rate calling plans for between $25 and $40 a month, uses a standard router to split a subscriber's broadband connection between their modem and an ATA (analog telephone adapter) box. The ATA box, which the company is giving away for free, converts the digital signal to an analog telephone signal, allowing a regular home phone to be plugged into the ATA to deliver dial tone and a high-quality connection.

Vonage also sells the IP telephony technology to ISPs and MSOs looking to bundle phone services with regular cable television services. Earlier this month, Vonage scored a big client win when EarthLink announced it would use the company's technology to launch a private label phone service for high speed subscribers.