VoIP telephony providers will have to enable customers to make calls to the emergency services, following a ruling by Ofcom on Wednesday.
All VoIP providers who connect to the UK's public switched telephone network (PSTN) will have to modify or upgrade their systems to allow 999 and 112 calls to be made, the telecoms regulator has ruled.
"As new voice services develop and become more mainstream, regulation must evolve too. In the future, consumers will be confident that, if they can make calls to ordinary national numbers using their VoIP service, then they will be able to call 999 or 112 in an emergency, " said Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards.
But the requirement will not come into force until 8 September, 2008 — around six months later than planned. Ofcom proposed the requirement in July this year, saying it would be enforced from early 2008.
Ofcom is concerned that lives could be put in danger if users try to dial the emergency services and subsequently fail to make a connection. Many VoIP providers do not currently have the necessary connections in their networks to enable a 999 call to be completed.
Ofcom's research claims that just 64 percent of households that use VoIP can dial 999 over their connection. The research also suggests that 78 percent of VoIP users who cannot call 999 mistakenly thought they could or did not know that they couldn't.
The new requirement will not affect VoIP services which do not connect to the PSTN or set-ups which only accept incoming calls.