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Saving Lives with WebRTC

I'm a big fan of Andrew Prokop. You may know him from here on No Jitter, his personal blog, SIP Adventures, or his speaking gigs around the country. Andrew writes about nearly every imaginable aspect of unified communications in ways that even us mere mortals can comprehend.

Andrew recently wrote in his No Jitter article on WebRTC interoperability, "Putting communications into Firefox or Chrome means one less application to download and fewer keystrokes to invoke it."

That struck a chord with me. Like many of you, I spend a great deal of my computer time inside a Web browser. Whether it's searching for information or running Web-based applications, the browser has essentially become my go-to application.

I am sure that many of you saw the news article about the Georgia woman who accidentally ran her car into a pond. She used a cell phone to call 9-1-1 and a cell tower adjacent to her county picked up the call. Despite her knowing exactly where she was, she was unable to communicate that information to the 9-1-1 dispatcher who was desperately trying to locate her. The call eerily ended as the water rose above her head.

I have asked myself this same question over and over again: If Facebook, Google and Uber can find me, why can't 9-1-1 do the same? Using my iPhone, I can ask Siri, "Where am I?" and up pops a map that shows precisely where I am standing. I never have to ask her, "Are you sure I am not one county away?"

So, if the phone knows exactly where I am, why can't that information be automatically shared with a 9-1-1 dispatcher?

The answer is unfortunately a simple one. The existing legacy 9-1-1 network transmits one thing and one thing only -- audio. Through a series of MF tones, a telephone number is correlated to a database entry of pre-populated, static information. There is no ability to be dynamic and aware like the smart devices that are calling 9-1-1.

Dynamic information such as GPS coordinates are known by Google, Siri and other apps on a smart phone, but these apps don't have the way, or key, to share that information with the outside world. It's available on the phone, but the 9-1-1 center can't get at it.

This is where WebRTC, and as Andrew described it, "Putting communications into Firefox or Chrome means one less application to download and fewer keystrokes to invoke it," can make the difference between life and death.

Imagine this scenario:

  • You call 9-1-1
  • 9-1-1 realizes that you are on a cellular device
  • You immediately receive a link via an SMS text
  • You click the link to establish a lifeline between your device and the 9-1-1 dispatcher
  • 9-1-1 extracts the map location from the phone
  • Using that information, 9-1-1 shows the dispatcher your exact location
  • While the emergency is in progress, the dispatcher can send multimedia communications to your device

The beauty of this solution is that it all occurs without having to download a new application to your phone. Through the magic of HTML5 and WebRTC, this concept works on any cellphone connected to the Internet. It's like putting a sticker on every cellphone that reads "NextGen 9-1-1 Ready."

This same simplicity holds true for the 9-1-1 center. WebRTC technology can be easily deployed providing emergency responders and dispatchers with dynamic maps and multimedia communications interfaces. This new technology can sit alongside existing 9-1-1 solutions already deployed across the country. Any responder with a PC and a Web browser is good to go.

How real is this? It's happening right now and has been demonstrated publicly at several events. Take a look at this YouTube video of a prototype that Avaya built for a European 9-9-9 center (9-1-1 here in the States, 9-9-9 across the pond):

In addition to smart devices, enterprise networks can use this same "over the top" architecture to deliver precious information stored within those networks. This includes building environmental information, video feeds, and even audio monitoring through HD SIP endpoint speakers -- all the information you could possibly want, and more.

Simple, quick, easy, and accurate.

For three decades, Fletch has contributed to the telecommunications industry from various perspectives. He spent time as a field technician, an installer, and a Systems Engineer consulting on large private voice networks globally. He helped customers navigate the transition from TDM to VoIP and now SIP and WebRTC, and holds several US Patents focused around new NG9-1-1 call handling functionality and capabilities.