VoIP services, including the likes of Skype, Vonage and Jajah, must connect 999/112 calls to emergency services in the future, Ofcom has ruled.

From 8 September 2008, VoIP providers must let users call emergency services. As it stands, you can use VoIP services for most standard calls, but if you're in need of the emergency services you'll have to call from a mobile phone or landline telephone. This is now set to change, and any VoIP provider that lets its users connect to normal landlines will have to connect to the emergency services too.

Critical delays

Ofcom said that the majority of VoIP users in the UK (78 per cent) were unaware or unsure about whether their VoIP service enabled them to call emergency services. This could cause critical delays in contacting the police, fire brigade, ambulance service or coastguard in an emergency.

The problem with using VoIP services is that it is difficult to locate callers geographically, unlike with landline or mobile numbers. Emergency calls cannot easily be routed to a nearby call centre, which is why most services don't currently connect these calls.

"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," Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said in a statement.