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What's Next for Next Gen 9-1-1

Author: Ray Paddock, Vice President, Emergency Product Portfolio, Bandwidth

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2012-11-05
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What has happened in the past dozen years since the kernel of the idea for Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) first emerged?  From where we stand, we’ve seen quite an amazing amount of progress.  But first we need to get a little perspective.


9-1-1: The most important call you might ever make

To ensure the reliability and predictability of delivering an emergency call to public safety, changes to the network cannot be made casually.  For more than 35 years, 9-1-1 has lived up to the public’s expectations.   

However, for multiple reasons, a wide variety of changes are coming to 9-1-1.  When the dust settles, the outstanding service our first responders provide today will be enhanced. Citizens will be able to reach help in a number of new ways, the communications infrastructure will be even more reliable and predictable, and existing infrastructure we have come to rely upon will be enhanced to take us through the next 35 years. 


Major strides

At its core, NG9-1-1 is built upon IP communications, which did not really begin to take off until the early 2000s.  By 2005, the FCC had mandated E9-1-1 for interconnected Voice over IP (VoIP) services.  Shortly thereafter, 9-1-1 service providers began to offer solutions to deliver VoIP 9-1-1 calls directly into the legacy time-division multiplexing (TDM)-based infrastructure of the nation’s 6,500 public safety answering points.  These solutions have become known as “native delivery” of 9-1-1 calls.   Today, VoIP 9-1-1 calls are commonplace. While the implementation of native delivery of VoIP 9-1-1 demonstrates the industry’s major strides toward NG9-1-1, there is plenty more ground to cover. 

The migration to the Next Generation 9-1-1 system

Under the leadership of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), stakeholders representing all aspects of emergency communications have been working to define the next generation of 9-1-1.  While some work remains, the core set of standards have been developed, approved and ready for implementation. 

Vermont, Iowa, Alabama, Tennessee and several other states are all in the process of migrating from the current 9-1-1 system to state-wide NG9-1-1 systems.  Further, the states of Maine, Massachusetts, Oregon, Utah and Florida have all begun the process of defining their path to NG9-1-1 and are actively requesting information from vendors.  In addition to state level efforts, numerous county and regional 9-1-1 authorities are also migrating to NG9-1-1.  While the paths that each jurisdiction is taking are different, all are expected to be based upon the standards developed in NENA.


Broad and deep support

Rarely do we see support for a single effort as broad and deep as it is with the migration to NG9-1-1.  At the federal level, the FCC has taken a keen interest in the migration to NG9-1-1 as well.  The Public Safety and Homeland Security (PSHS) Bureau is conducting a rule making proceeding (NPRM) covering NG9-1-1.  The NPRM includes efforts to collect input and data from a wide array of stakeholders, including Bandwidth, to better understand how the migration is taking place and what obstacles to deployment are being encountered.  FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski gave his support to the effort by publishing a five-point plan to accelerate the movement. Additionally, the PSHS Bureau seems poised to actively facilitate the migration. The Department of Transportation’s National 9-1-1 Program office is also playing a very visible and important role by providing research and guidance to states considering the migration.  Finally, the Congressional NG9-1-1 Caucus, supported by the NG9-1-1 Institute, continues to support the migration to NG9-1-1 and stands ready to drive legislation that may be required.  So if your jurisdiction is acting upon an NG9-1-1 deployment plan, you are in good company.  If not, now is a good time to ask what barriers remain.

9-1-1: It’s not just for voice calls anymore

Although there are many benefits to NG9-1-1, one of its key benefits is support for communications modes beyond voice alone.  Exhibit A:  text messaging.  Today, many of us use text messaging far more frequently than a voice call.  Plus, text-to-9-1-1 can provide critical assistance to a person needing help who may not be able to speak for a number of different reasons.  In fact, another key benefit from full 9-1-1 support via text message is that the deaf and hard of hearing community would be much better served.


NG9-1-1 will provide a far simpler implementation of text-to-9-1-1.

However, notwithstanding encouraging developments toward NG9-1-1 the migration to full nationwide NG9-1-1 will take a significant amount of time.  To address this, the FCC is exploring pre-next generation text to 9-1-1 solutions that may be available and soon it is likely that the commission will require support text-to-9-1-1 - well prior to the full deployment of NG9-1-1.   The technical aspects of text-to-9-1-1 or interim text-to-9-1-1 are complicated though and so it is also important to remember that before the system can work, Public Safety needs to develop operational procedures and train personnel.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg...

NG9-1-1 also addresses a number of other gaps in 9-1-1 coverage that have gotten the attention of the FCC.  Examples include:

  • 9-1-1 service for people using their enterprise's private branch exchange (PBX)
  • Emergency services for voice and texting applications that may not use an assigned telephone number
  • 9-1-1 requirements for those using WiFi-enabled devices like iPods, iPads or Android or Windows based devices

New technologies and services present significant challenges to the current E9-1-1 system but are fully contemplated as part of the NG9-1-1 deployment.   While NG9-1-1 will be vastly superior to today’s emergency network, we cannot wait for nationwide NG9-1-1 to address compelling public policy issues that require attention now.  In fact, addressing critical emergency service gaps in the near term may well provide the necessary impetus for the ultimate deployment of nationwide NG9-1-1.



The changes occurring in 9-1-1 today are unprecedented.  The rapid pace of innovation in communications services and the pace of change in technology are all driving the need to implement NG9-1-1 and revalue the range of services that should support emergency communications.  Communications service providers, 9-1-1 Service Providers, vendors, the federal and state governments, regulators, NENA and other stakeholders are all engaged in the effort to re-invented our nation’s 9-1-1 systems.  It will take much work and patience both because there will be some bumps in the road along the way, but there is no doubt that these are exciting times in 9-1-1!


Read Sidebar: 

Alabama Next Generation (ANGEN)


Ray Paddock is the Vice President of the Emergency Product Portfolio at Bandwidth, responsible for guiding the company's 9-1-1 solutions for telecommunication service providers and 9-1-1 authorities.  Ray has been in the telecommunications industry for more than 25 years, nearly half of that time focusing on 9-1-1.  He has held executive level positions with a number of companies providing products and services including Intrado.  Ray is a frequent speaker at industry events, participates in NENA committees driving standards in 9-1-1 and NG9-1-1, and is personally active in inetwork's advocacy with the federal level with the FCC and state level with various regulatory entities.

Bandwidth plays a significant role in the nation’s 9-1-1 ecosystem.  In 2010 Bandwidth acquired dash Carrier Services, integrating dash’s 9-1-1 solutions into its existing wholesale voice network services.  Today, Bandwidth, along with Intrado and TCS form a select club of tier 1 providers capable of delivering 9-1-1 solutions to interconnected VoIP providers.  The company also is currently deploying NG9-1-1 call routing solution for the state of Alabama.

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