IP communications is empowering positive change at a rapid pace across the entire electronic security landscape. This month I'd like discuss, however, a particular downside it is having that you may not yet have fully considered.
In the late 1990s, certain alarm receivers frequently referred to as "virtual receivers" were engineered to receive multiple alarm transmission formats from multiple manufacturers' alarm dialers. Unlike receivers of old, these did not connect plain old telephone service (POTS) lines to individual line cards sectioned off into hunt groups. Instead, they utilized dynamic port configurations and the bandwidth from T-1 circuits to answer calls from alarm dialers.
The virtual receivers provided much more bandwidth for incoming alarm transmissions, and just as importantly, they enabled central stations to monitor virtually all manufacturers' formats on one receiver.
This was a dream come true for central stations. It provided a much more efficient solution for the receiving of alarm communications. It was also great for alarm dealers because they didn't have to report to multiple receiver phone numbers to accommodate different manufacturers' formats. The problem prior to virtual receivers was that several manufacturers had proprietary formats that required central stations to use their proprietary receivers. This was inefficient and came at a huge cost to central stations, especially third-party central stations that had to accommodate a wide array of formats.
During the early 2000s, central stations retired outdated POTS line receivers and replaced them with the new, more efficient virtual receivers. Life was good! More than ever, it felt like the central station world was changing with the times and beginning to move boldly into the future.
Now, here we are in 2012 and central stations face the same predicament from the 1980s and '90s with the receiving of IP signals.
Virtually every control panel vendor has designed a proprietary protocol for their IP transmitters. This means the central stations have to buy a receiver and a backup to support the monitoring of all the different manufacturers' IP transmitters. As Yogi Berra once pontificated, "It's like déjà vu all over again!" The same central stations that were so happy about moving all their POTS signal traffic to one receiver are now lamenting having to buy individual IP receivers. It seems the industry could have worked together to develop a universal standard protocol for these transmitters so they could be received on one device.
Big Burden on 3rd-Party Centrals
The situation is now being addressed by the Contract Monitoring Council, a subcommittee of the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA). They are working with the panel manufacturers to develop a standard protocol that can transmit to a single universal IP receiver. There is no defined timeline as to when this will be accomplished. Central stations hope that it's sooner rather than later.
Third-party central stations are really paying a big price in this equation. As previously stated, they have to support multiple alarm dealers using a wide array of products. Their dealers are coming to them wanting them to support the latest, greatest IP transmitter. The central station is then in the unenviable position of having to decide whether or not to spend as much as $10,000 or more for a primary and a spare receiver, not to mention the time and expense of installation. This scenario is playing out at third-party central stations everywhere.
Another interesting fact about IP receivers is that they are very inefficient with bandwidth. Central stations cannot load anywhere near as many accounts on an IP receiver compared to any virtual POTS receiver with a similar number of available ports. This is because of the intense "pinging" that goes on with IP transmitters. It's great for supervision, but it's bad for bandwidth consumption. This comes as a big surprise to a lot of people in the industry.
IP communications for alarms is great for the industry, and I am not trying to steer alarm dealers away from using IP communicators. I do, however, believe the alarm industry needs to come up to speed regarding the receiving of IP signals from alarm control panels.
Mark Matlock is Senior Vice President at United Central Control Inc. (UCC), a wholesale monitoring station based in San Antonio.