What You Need to Know About Alarm Communications

Brad Conely by Brad Conely | 06.04.2012

Communications in the alarm industry is changing- a fact that is probably well known to most of you.  Let’s go over some of the most popular choices for communication and alarm reporting in the industry today.

POTS

At one time, a POTS line was the most prominent form of alarm communications.

A pair of copper wires originate from the telephone pole and connect to the TIP and RING terminals on the alarm panel.  When an alarm occurs, the control panel seizes the phone line and dials out the alarm message to the monitoring station. 

Using a POTS line has always been a reliable way to transmit alarm signals. However, it can cause some issues when trying to retrofit a system to an existing house.  One issue is line seizure.  When an alarm occurs and the panel dials, it should disconnect all the house phones and deliver its message to the monitoring station.  If the panel is not the first thing on the phone system when it dials out, it won’t seize the phone line.  If the line doesn’t get seized, the signals may not get out due to local interference. A tell tale sign of this is if you are using a house phone and you hear the panel pick up and dial out.  If this is happening, it’s not installed properly.  With the popularity of cell phones, POTS lines are becoming obsolete.  According to The American Business Journal,   more than 25% of all Americans live in homes with no landline telephones but at least one cell phone.

VoIP (Voice Over IP)
One of the newer forms of communications is VoIP.  This lets customers make phone calls over the Internet.  The latency of an IP network as well as other contributing factors has made VoIP unusable for digital alarm reporting.  VoIP is known to garble signals to the monitoring station if it even reports them at all.  Also, since the VoIP signal is carried by the Internet, when power is lost to the site, no calls can be made and no alarm signals can be sent.  VoIP may be cheaper for the customer to make calls, but if it is used for alarm reporting, the cost may be more than money.  So what can you do when faced with this situation?

IP
One of the most popular solutions for alarm reporting is IP reporting.  Honeywell created the IP communicator, which connects to the alarm panel and communicates alarm signals through the customer’s IP network.  It is ideal for customers that do not have a POTS line in their home, but do have an Internet connection.  IP reporting is very reliable, but there are a few requirements that must be considered when installing an IP module.  The customer must have a compatible module for the control panel.  The customer must also have hi-speed internet service, broad band or DSL.  There also must be a cat 5 cable ran between the IP module and a port on the customer’s router.  And finally, there is usually an additional monthly charge for IP communications via Alarmnet.  The most prominent drawback for this form of communication is the communication path itself.  The IP modules use the Internet to report so if the site was to lose power, then alarm reports cannot be sent.  For this reason, the IP modules are typically used with a secondary form of communication, such as a POTS line or GSM. 

 GSM
The main factor in the change in alarm communications and reporting is the rise of cellular technology.  Honeywell created a solution for this rapidly changing industry.  The current cellular technology is known as GSM or Global System for Mobile communication. Honeywell’s GSM unit, which connects to the alarm panel, communicates over the AT&T network.

GSM communication is convenient and cost effective.  There isn’t any labor needed to run additional wires to a router or phone block.  GSM modules also offer added security benefits.  Since GSM technology uses wireless cellular communication, it is much more reliable.  It cannot be stopped by AC loss since the GSM unit and alarm panel both have battery backup.  And if the phone line is cut, it will have no effect on the GSM unit reporting the alarm signals.  It can be used as a primary form of communications or it can be used as a backup form of communications following a POTS line, if available, or IP reporting if using a combination IP/GSM unit. 

The GSM and IP/GSM units are the communication modules of the future.  They offer the best solution to quickly and effectively get reliable alarm reporting from an alarm system, regardless of what you find on site when you arrive. 

If you’re a security dealer and have questions regarding panel compatibility and communication set up, visit MyWebTech for more details.