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IETF eyes 'Net emergency communications

System would route urgent calls over Internet much as 911 telephone network does now.

By , Network World
March 21, 2005 12:07 AM ET

Network World - The IETF has kicked off an effort to develop communications protocols needed to support emergency communications over the Internet.

The new IETF working group is called Emergency Context Resolutions with Internet Technologies (ECRIT). ECRIT is looking for a way to route emergency calls over the Internet similar to the way in which 911 calls are routed over the public switched telephone network (PSTN).

If successful, ECRIT would have a significant effect on service providers, including traditional wireline and wireless carriers, ISPs and start-up VoIP providers, because they would need to upgrade network hardware and software to support any new system.

Universal standards

"The ambition of this working group is to provide a universal solution for a particular part of the emergency communications problem," says Jon Peterson, an engineer with NeuStar who serves as the Transport Area director overseeing ECRIT. "We are looking at how, based on the context of an emergency call, to route it to the right emergency call center."

ECRIT is not addressing prioritization or pre-emption of emergency calls, which is available in many government and military telephone systems. Instead, the IETF's Internet Emergency Preparedness working group is handling those issues as it develops an overall architecture for communications systems used for disaster recovery.

"We're looking at the consumer, 911-class problem over the public Internet," Peterson says.

Because it addresses this broader need, "ECRIT is the most important protocol work going on in the IETF related to emergency communications," he says.

The IETF announced the ECRIT working group in February, and ECRIT held its first meeting March 9 in Minneapolis.

The PSTN has been configured to recognize specific numbers such as 911 or 112 as calls for emergency services. These calls are sent to special call centers that handle emergency response. These emergency calls are associated with the physical location of the call originator so they can be routed to the appropriate emergency call center.

With its many overlay networks and tunneling mechanisms, the Internet is a more challenging infrastructure for building an emergency communications system than the PSTN, IETF participants say. The ECRIT working group is trying to define the requirements of Internet-based emergency calling and to select appropriate technologies for describing the location of the call originator and managing the call routing.

Video, text messaging service

ECRIT is focused on VoIP calls, but the group's charter says it also will consider the use of video or text-messaging communications to request emergency services.

Hideki Arai, an engineer with the Oki Electric Industry in Japan, said the new system "must be equivalent to traditional emergency calling . . . and it must be easy to migrate from the PSTN to the Internet."

Arai briefed the working group on an ongoing Japanese government effort to outline its own requirements for emergency calling with IP telephony services.

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