A lot of countries have a single point of contact for emergency services; in Europe you’d call 112 in an emergency, 000 in Australia or 911 in the US. Calling this number in the country will get you the emergency services.
This means a caller can order an ambulance for smoke inhalation, and the fire brigade, in one call.
But that’s not the case in every country; many countries don’t have one number for the emergency services, they’ve got multiple; a phone number for police, a different number for fire brigade and a different number for an ambulance.
For example, in Brazil if you need the police, you call 190, while a for example, uses 193 as the emergency number for the fire department, the police can be reached at 190 or 191 depending on if it’s road policing or general, and medical emergencies are covered by 192. Other countries have similar setups.
This is all well and good if you’re in Brazil, and you call 192 for an ambulance, the phone sends a SIP INVITE with a Request URI of sip:[email protected], because we can put a rule into our E-CSCF to say if the number is 192 to route it to the answer point for ambulances – But that’s not often the case on emergency calls.
In IMS, handsets generally detect the number dialed is on the Emergency Calling Code (ECC) list from the USIM Card.
The use of the ECC list means the phone knows this is an emergency call, and this is really important. For countries that use AML this can trigger sending of the AML SMS that process, and Emergency Calls should always be allowed to be made, even without credit, a valid SIM card, or even a SIM in the phone at all.
But this comes with a cost; when a user dials 911, the phones doesn’t (generally) send a call to sip:[email protected] like it would with any other dialled number, but rather the SIP INVITE is sent to urn:service:sos which will be routed to the PSAP by the E-CSCF. When a call comes through to these URNs they’re given top priority in the network
This is all well and good in a country where it doesn’t matter which emergency service you called, because all emergency calls route to a single PSAP, but in a country with multiple numbers, it’s really important when you call and ambulance, your call doesn’t get routed to animal control.
That means the phone has to look at what emergency number you’ve dialed, and map the URN it sends the call to to match what you’ve actually requested.
Recently we’ve been helping an operator in a country with a numbering plan like this, and we’ve been finding the limits of the standards here.
So let’s start by looking at what the standards state:
IMS Emergency Calling is governed by TS 103.479 which in turn delegates to IETF RFC 5031, but for the calling number to URN translation, it’s pretty quiet.
Let’s look at what RFC 5031 allows for URNs:
The USIM’s Emergency Calling Codes EF would be the perfect source of this data; for each emergency calling code defined, you’ve got a flag to indicate what it’s for, here’s what we’ve got available on the SIM Card:
- Bit 1 Police
- Bit 2 Ambulance
- Bit 3 Fire Brigade
- Bit 4 Marine Guard
- Bit 5 Mountain Rescue
- Bit 6 manually initiated eCall
- Bit 7 automatically initiated eCall
- Bit 8 is spare and set to “0”
So these could be mapped pretty easily you’d think, so if the call is made to an Emergency Calling Code flagged with Bit 4, the URN would go to urn:service:sos.mountain.
Alas from our research, we’ve found most OEMs send calls to the generic urn:service:sos, regardless of the dialled number and the ECC flags that are set on the SIM for that number.
One of the big chip vendors sends calls to an ECC flagged as Ambulance to urn:service:sos.fire, which is totally infuriating, and we’ve had to put a rule in our E-CSCF to handle this if the User Agent is set to one of their phones.
Is there room for improvement here? For sure! Emergency calling is super important, and time is of the essence, while animal control can probably transfer you to an ambulance, an emergency is by very nature time sensitive, and any time wasted can lead to worse outcomes.
While carrier bundles from the OEMs can handle this, the global ability to take any phone, from any country and call an emergency number is so important, that relying on a country-by-country approach here won’t suffice.
What could we do as an industry to address this?
Acknowledging that not all countries have a single point of contact for emergency service, introducing a simple mechanism in the UE SIP message to indicate what number (Emergency Calling Code) the user actually dialled would be invaluable here.
URNs are important, but knowing the dialed number when it comes to PSAP routing, is so important – This wouldn’t even need to be its own SIP header, it could just be thrown into the Contact header as another parameter.
Highly developed markets are often the first to embrace new tech (for us this means VoLTE and VoNR), but this means that these issues seen by less developed markets won’t appear until long after the standard has been set in stone, and often countries like this aren’t at the table of the standards bodies to discuss such requirements.
This easy, reasonable update to the standard, has the potential to save lives, and next time this comes up in a working group I’ll be advocating for a change.