I’m a heavy Skype user – it’s a stunningly effective tool that allows me to talk to or message people all across the globe for no cost (that last part is important – I’m known for being a scrooge!)
However Skype does not equal a phoneline. This was bought home to me the other day when I read that Skype has been ordered by the UK Office of Communications to allow emergency calls over their network.
Skype has refused – but before the incredulity starts, there are some good reasons for this. Skype came out strongly saying that;
At this time, Skype is not complying with Ofcom’s ruling, as we believe that it is not applicable to our software offering and in fact potentially harmful to public safety
The problem Skype has is that, unlike a landline or a mobile, Skype is not location aware – or to use an example I have Skype on my laptop – if I were to call an emergency number from it and then hang up – Skype has no way of knowing if I’m at home, at work or overseas – location awareness is a key requirement for emergency services call takers.
On their emergency services information page Skype says that;
An emergency call is perhaps the most important call you will ever make. We care about your safety and want to provide you with complete information about emergency services.
- Skype is not a replacement for your landline or your mobile phone. Skype does not offer you the ability to call emergency services for help if you are in distress.
- When calling 911 for help, mobile phones can identify your location within a 300 meter range and sometimes even closer. This enables emergency service operators to find you or call you back if the call drops. Landline phones will dispatch help to the address you provided when you subscribed to use the phone company’s services.
- If you are a SkypePro or SkypeIn subscriber, using your mobile or landline phone for emergency calls is still required since Skype does not know your physical location and is unable to assist emergency services.
Ofcon knows this (or should) and needs to see why their order is in fact counter to public safety interests. The question is what should Skype do? And how much of a risk are these sorts of issues going to be going into the future.
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