9-1-1 Services for Traditional Wireline, VoIP and Wireless Phone Services

Text with 9-1-1 Service for Canadians with hearing or speech impairments (T911)

In certain areas, text message access to 9-1-1 services is now available for hearing or speech impaired Canadians.

Telephone and wireless companies have made the upgrades needed to support Text with 9-1-1 service. It is now up to 9-1-1 call centers to implement certain changes to their systems and make this service available. 9-1-1 call centers are operated by municipal and provincial/territorial governments.

Once Text with 9-1-1 becomes available in their area, hearing or speech impaired persons will need to register for the service with their wireless service provider. In case of emergency, registered users must first dial 9-1-1. The 9-1-1 operator will then receive a notification to communicate with them via text message.

Please visit the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association’s Text with 9-1-1 website regularly for more information on the service, its availability and how to register.

Types of 9-1-1 service: Basic and Enhanced

Basic 9-1-1 service connects a 9-1-1 call to a call centre. The caller must identify his or her location to the 9-1-1 operator, who then connects the call to the emergency response centre serving that area.

Enhanced 9-1-1 service connects a 9-1-1 call to an emergency call centre and automatically provides the 9-1-1 operator with the phone number and address or location of the caller.

Either Basic or Enhanced 9-1-1 service is available to almost all subscribers in Canada. Most subscribers receive Enhanced 9-1-1 service, and Basic 9-1-1 is provided in parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, and Yukon, where the 9-1-1 call centres have not been upgraded to receive Enhanced 9-1-1 information. Where 9-1-1 service in not available, such as in Nunavut and Northwest Territories, emergency services are contacted using a normal telephone number.

9-1-1 services: Traditional wireline telephone, wireless and VoIP  

The 9-1-1 service you receive depends on the type of telephone service you use to make the call, and whether you are in an area that has either Enhanced or Basic 9-1-1 service:

Traditional wireline telephone 9-1-1 service

With a traditional wireline service:

  • you make or receive calls from a fixed address.
  • you receive Enhanced 9-1-1 service, where the caller’s phone number and address are automatically provided to the 9-1-1 operator, except where Basic 9-1-1 service is provided.
  • you can still make calls during power outages, because it doesn’t require power from within the home. However, cordless telephones do not work during power outages and therefore cannot be used to access 9-1-1 service in that situation.

Wireless 9-1-1 service

Wireless phones can be important safety tools, but because they are mobile, they aren’t associated with one fixed location or address. This mobility, however, makes it harder for both service providers and 9-1-1 operators to pinpoint the location of a 9-1-1 call.

There are two types of wireless emergency 9-1-1 services:

Wireless Basic 9-1-1 service

This type of wireless 9-1-1 service is provided in areas that receive Basic 9-1-1 service. When a wireless 9-1-1 call is made, the wireless carrier connects the emergency call to a 9-1-1 call centre that serves the area of the cellphone tower that the calling wireless handset is connected to.

Wireless Enhanced 9-1-1 service

This type of wireless 9-1-1 service is provided in areas that receive Enhanced 9-1-1 service. To improve the safety and security of Canadians, the CRTC required wireless carriers to upgrade their 9-1-1 services to provide an enhanced capability to identify the location of wireless 9-1-1 callers. This is particularly important in emergency situations where the caller is unable to speak or cannot identify his or her location. This improved location capability is enabled by two technologies:

Global Positioning System (GPS) or Triangulation Capability

With Enhanced 9-1-1, wireless carriers use Global Positioning System (GPS) or Triangulation technology to identify a 9-1-1 caller’s location (generally within 50 to 300 meters of the cellphone). The emergency call and the caller’s location are automatically transmitted to a 9-1-1 call centre serving that area.

Not all new cellphones have GPS capability. To get more information on a cellphone’s
9-1-1 service, check your manual or ask your wireless service provider.
GPS capability uses signals from satellites to determine a cellphone’s location.

If your cellphone does not have GPS capability, wireless carriers can also use triangulation technology, which locates the caller by measuring the cellphone signal’s distance from nearby cellphone towers.

The location information, as determined by either GPS or triangulation, will be provided to the 9-1-1 operator if you are using either a cellphone with pre-paid minutes or a wireless service plan. If you have a cellphone but are not subscribed to any service, you can still dial 9-1-1 in an emergency and get basic wireless 9-1-1 service.

VoIP

Consumers who are thinking of changing or moving to a new local telephone service provider should ask the provider if it offers 9-1-1 service. If not, you may want to get service from a different service provider.

The type of VoIP service determines the type of 9-1-1 service available to emergency callers using VoIP services.

Fixed VoIP service

With Fixed VoIP service, calls can only be made from a fixed address. A Fixed VoIP service is normally provided over a private communication network (such as your cable service provider at home) instead of over the Internet. Fixed VoIP service provides Enhanced 9-1-1 service equivalent to that provided by traditional wireline service, except where Basic 9-1-1 is provided.

Nomadic VoIP service

Nomadic VoIP service is provided over the Internet and lets callers access telephone services using any high-speed Internet connection from any location.

Nomadic VoIP service provides Basic 9-1-1 service because there is no fixed address to provide to 9-1-1 operators. The mobility of this service makes it very hard for both service providers and 9-1-1 operators to pinpoint the location of a 9-1-1 call.

VoIP service providers’ obligations

  • All Local VoIP service providers must provide either Basic or Enhanced 9-1-1 service. (Telecom Decision CRTC 2005-21)
  • Nomadic VoIP service providers must obtain express customer consent that the customer understands the limitations of their 9-1-1 service. (Telecom Decision CRTC 2005-21)
  • Nomadic VoIP service providers must notify subscribers about the availability, characteristics and limitations of their 9-1-1 service when the service starts and at least once a year thereafter. (Telecom Decision CRTC 2005-61)

Tips when making 9-1-1 emergency calls

  • Tell the 9-1-1 operator the nature and location of the emergency right away.
  • Give the operator your phone number, so if the call gets disconnected, the operator can call you back.
  • Do not hang up, unless the 9-1-1 operator asks you to.
  • If you get disconnected, call back.

Additional tips for VoIP

  • Make sure your location information is up to date with your service provider. The operator may assume that you are at the last registered address if you are not able to speak during a 9-1-1 call.
  • During a power (unless battery back-up is provided) or an Internet outage, VoIP services, including 9-1-1, will be unavailable.

Unintentional 9-1-1 calls

One challenge with wireless technology is the increase in 9-1-1 calls made by mistake from cellphones in pockets and purses. These calls can delay help for other 9-1-1 callers in real emergencies.

To prevent accidentally dialling a 9-1-1 call:

  • keep wireless phones away from children
  • when you’re not using your cellphone, turn it off, or lock the keypad
  • do not program your cellphone to automatically dial 9-1-1
  • If your wireless phone is pre-programmed with the Auto-dial 9-1-1 feature turned on, turn the feature off. Check your user manual for instructions.

If you dial 9-1-1 by mistake, stay on the line and tell the 9-1-1 operator that there is no emergency and that the call was unintentional.