Medical Alert Monitoring & Voice Over IP (VoIP)

Technical Things To Know

Medical Alert Monitoring & Voice Over IP (VoIP)
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Voice Over Internet Protocol, also know as Voice Over IP or VOIP, is a technology that allows you to use your high-speed internet connection to make telephone calls.  VOIP has come a long way over the years, and since 2004, commercial VOIP service really began to grow.

Big names in the business include companies like Vonage, Comcast Digital Voice, and Qwest Broadband Phone Service.  They work very well these days.  In fact, I’m a Vonage customer myself.  So how does VOIP relate to medical alert monitoring systems?  Well in short terms, directly.  Your medical alert monitoring system requires a telephone line to send its emergency information to the monitoring facility and then provide the speakerphone type communication between the central station operator and your loved one.

There are a few problems with VOIP phone service that can cause no communication or intermittent communication between your medical alert monitoring system and the central monitoring station.  Without getting too technical, your medical alert system acts a lot like a computer dial-up modem or fax machine.  It send a series computer signals over the telephone line that are interpreted by the central station’s receiving equipment.  The basic information tells the central station who you are and what you want.  Once it knows these things it allows the operator to start speaking to your loved one.

Since these systems have been used for years on regular telephone lines, they know how to communicate across them.  Communication standards also exist so equipment manufactures can be sure their equipment will work properly.  Then here comes the internet and voice over IP.  Well these services do not follow very strict standards, although managed networks like Comcast and others do provide a more reliable solution.

It’s kind of like the wild, wild, west. Companies competing for business while inventing better technology along the way.  Plus, depending on your internet service provider and your VoIP service provider (they don’t have to be the same) it makes it very difficult for equipment manufactures to make  equipment that will be reliable on all networks and with all VOIP carriers.

Another problem with VOIP is that it requires that the modem for your internet service and the VOIP equipment all to have battery back-up in case of a power failure, otherwise you (or your medical alert monitoring system) could not make a call.  Even if you had days worth of battery power (not very practical) your internet service provider would have to have battery back-up services all across their network as well.  Most of your big providers would have a reasonable amount of back-up, but you may only have a few minutes or hour.  A regular old telephone line would most likely work in this situation.

So the answer to the question of will it work isnot reliably.  It might work sometimes, or even most of the time, but with life-safety involved it really isn’t worth the risk.  There are certain scenarios that can increase the chance of more reliable operation, but I don’t want to tempt you.  Just keep your plain old telephone line or order one up.  If your service provider can guarantee that their system will work over VOIP, then go for it.  But I can tell you that’s virtually impossible from a technical standpoint.  Someday, but not today.

Also, it’s good to test your system to the central station regularly.  Even telephone lines can have problems.  Most good companies program this feature automatically into their systems.  Automatic monthly tests are  good, but weekly tests are better (see the equipment section on our compare page or our detailed reviews for more information).

I mean the whole point of this system is to make you and your loved one feel more secure and for it to be there when they need it, right?  Don’t take any chances with VOIP technology.