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Ofcom Investigates UK VoIP Provider Vonage over 999 Access

Tuesday, Mar 19th, 2024 (10:51 am) - Score 2,000
Home Phone and UK Broadband VoIP Services

The UK telecoms regulator has today launched an own-initiative investigation into Vonage‘s internet phone (VoIP / Cloud) service, which follows an incident resulting in disruption for its business customers to emergency call (999) services during October and November 2023.

The regulator’s existing General Conditions rules (e.g. General Condition A3.2 and sections 105A, 105C and 105K of the Communications Act 2003) require every communications provider to “ensure the fullest possible availability of public communications services at all times, including in the event of a disaster or catastrophic network failure, and uninterrupted access to emergency organisations.”

Naturally, any failure of such communications, particularly to the emergency services, is extremely serious and could result in a loss of life. This is particularly relevant now that broadband ISPs and their customers are increasingly switching away from traditional phone line services and on to IP-based phone alternatives, which may be more exposed to connectivity problems and power cuts etc.

Ofcom’s Statement

Our rules require providers to take all necessary measures to ensure uninterrupted access to emergency organisations as part of any call services offered. Providers must also take appropriate and proportionate measures to identify and reduce the risks of the availability, performance or functionality of their network or service being compromised.

Additionally, providers are also required to take appropriate and proportionate measures to prevent adverse effects from any such compromise. In the event there are negative effects, they should take steps to remedy or mitigate those effects.

Providers are also required to inform Ofcom, as soon as reasonably practicable, of any security compromise that has a significant effect on the operation of a network or service.

Our investigation will seek to establish the facts surrounding the incident and examine whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that Vonage has failed to comply with its regulatory obligations.

Sadly, it’s not the first time that Vonage has found themselves the subject of such an investigation. Back in December 2018 the operator was fined £24,500 (here) after Ofcom discovered that they had “failed to provide uninterrupted access” to the emergency services. At the time the operator said it had made changes to its network and testing processes to minimise the risk of a similar incident occurring in the future.

Investigations like this tend to be quite a slow and complex process, which means that we probably won’t learn the final outcome for a while (possibly by early next year).

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Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
10 Responses
  1. Avatar photo HR2Res says:

    … and there was me seriously thinking of using Vonage as my (residential) VoIP provider. Hmm. Time for a rethink maybe.

    1. Avatar photo Them indoors says:

      I used to have Vonage as my landline provider when I lived in Spain as it gave a cheap way of calling folks back home. However when I moved back it because rather pointless and hand’t used it in ages. I can confidently say it was as reliable as my broadband, I can’t attest to the reliability of 999 services as thankfully in that time I never had cause to use it. That said, as I always had a mobile whilst having the Vonage line, I would likely have used that first. I guess what I’m saying, is, if you have a mobile it’s less of a risk. Even if it’s you that’s having the emergency and the other person there doesn’t have a mobile, they can still make an emergency call using your handset without needing to unlock it so, it should be fine.

    2. Avatar photo HR2Res says:

      The issue for me is I have 4G broadband (not the best or most consistent of signals, though the best of the bunch) and the only way to get a mobile signal (different carrier for obvious reasons) in the house is to use wifi calling. It’s the basic reason I haven’t gone VoIP yet. That said, I’m not quite in a not spot (so emergency calls perhaps not quite the issue it would be for some of my neighbours who are in that situation) and was going to take the plunge. This just gave me added reason to pause for thought. We must have a line capable of calls in and out, not just for calls to emergency services but for vulnerable family members.

  2. Avatar photo Ivor says:

    puts the endless “why pay for overpriced BT/Virgin/etc” comments in perspective.

  3. Avatar photo NowVectonePlease says:

    Now could they investigate Vectone Mobile for letting down thousands of customers, past and present by failing to route calls to the numbers they were assigned many many years ago? To this day they continue to sell sim cards.

    1. Avatar photo Scary says:

      Scary.

  4. Avatar photo Just a thought says:

    Reading those regulations it’s hard to see how ISPs / CPs can justify fitting an ONT and router without a battery backup to cover power outages at the consumer end.
    Whilst not necessarily a power outage in this case; it’s even less excusable for a failure on the provider’s side not to have backup or fail-over systems take over.

    Wonder if we could reach a standard for a rechargeable battery backup pack that plugged into any ONT. Recharged by the ONT’s supply. The standard to specify it provides onward power to the router over PoE in emergency power fail. It could be swapped out for a pack containing common dry cell alternatives.

    Brain dump over.

    1. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      because Ofcom has weighed it up, and on balance the small risk of a power cut (mitigated for the vast majority by requiring ISPs to supply a UPS to vulnerable customers) is outweighed by giving people the service they do want – fast, reliable fibre internet.

      It would also have led to an interesting double standard. Even if Openreach was told to maintain copper and some form of POTS service, would that have applied to its competitors as well? Even the ones that don’t use copper at all?

    2. Avatar photo Just a thought says:

      @Ivor agree it’s a balancing act. However, if the mobile industry can standardise on a USB connector, why can’t the telecoms industry standardise on a power and backup connection at their ONTs and linked power connection to routers. It would then give customers that suffer more regular outages the option to buy and plug in a larger battery, or have several dry cell back-ups in the cupboard.
      I can see that it’s not financially viable to back everyone centrally, or to provide batteries to everyone. But a standard is a one off cost.

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