AT&T solves 911?

Tom Keating : VoIP & Gadgets Blog
Tom Keating
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AT&T solves 911?

AT&T says it has solved the nomaic 911 problem. Yeah, we've heard that one before. Nevertheless, AT&T claims it has solved the issue of VoIP users that call 911 from hotels and other remote locations.

AT&T's nomadic solution, called Heartbeat, tracks the location of users. The way it works is that when a VoIP subscriber turns off their ATA device, AT&T's network will automatically suspend VoIP service. Isn't that nice? Once the ATA/phone adapter is plugged back in, AT&T will ask the user to verify his or her location. If it's the same location, you are instantly granted access, however if the customer says they have moved, they'll be directed to an 800 number or a Web page to register the new location for 911 compliance.

AT&T's solution relies on the user's honesty. If I am in a hotel and don't want to be bothered to have to go to a web page in order to register the hotel's address, I'll probably just lie and say I haven't moved. Who wants to register in order to make a phone call? Seriously, it's like those nagging software registration screens I never fill out. No thanks. I'll take my chances that I won't need 911.

At the very least AT&T's solution should check the remote IP address of the phone adaptor at bootup and see if it's in the same Class A or Class B IP address range that was previously tracked by AT&T's servers. If it is in the same Class A or B, then most likely they haven't moved the phone adaptor, since each ISP has a certain range of assigned IP addresses. Most times when you reboot the phone adaptor, it should get the same IP address anyway, so AT&T should at least be able to match the IP address as verification you haven't moved the device.

I should mention that most home computers are dynamically assigned a new IP address by their ISP which expires every few days and therefore it changes - however the new IP address is still in the same Class. So why not leverage this fact to auto-detect this and not prompt the AT&T subscriber to confirm their address if there has simply been a power outage - or they simply rebooted the phone adaptor, broadband modem, or their home gateway/firewall. Of course, the odds of you experiencing a power outage (or rebooting the ATA) at the same time the ISP is going to give you a new IP address is probably pretty small. Most likely you'll get the same IP address and the AT&T servers should borrow my idea of detecting the same IP address and not prompt for 911 registration.

I have to say, having to worry about having to register your address everytime you mess with your home network is every techie's worst nightmare. I'm constantly rebooting my home broadband router/firewall, testing new hardware, etc. so AT&T CallVantage would not be a good solution for me. And lest we forget, the "core" users of VoIP broadband service are still the "techie" types, so AT&T is alienating a huge demographic!

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