Communicating a Critical Message

There was a time if you asked me what effect the AMPS cellular sunset would have on my world or what 3G or 4G cell service was, I couldn’t have told you. However, since joining the security industry five years ago I’ve learned a lot more than I ever imagined possible about alarm communications. This includes the reliability, cost and availability of alarm communications over plain old telephone service (POTS), cellular and private mesh radio networks.

Listening to customers and becoming a student of the industry has helped me truly appreciate how the reliability and availability of alarm communications relate to matters of life and death. As a professional woman who tends to work late into the evening on most nights, I rely heavily on my cell phone for communications. It makes me feel safe knowing that if I am ever stranded late at night, all I have to do is dial 911.

I used to never give much thought about driving alone at night and what could happen if I weren’t able to call for help. Then my boss showed me a newspaper article about a pregnant woman in Bangor, Maine, who was involved in a car accident during a snowstorm. Unfortunately for her, using a cell phone to call for help was not an option – she was in a dead coverage area!

The article made me wonder about fi re alarm or burglar alarm signals that can’t get through to the central station, especially now that many alarm owners no longer use landlines and instead rely solely on cell service.

This also brought to mind my friend Kim and her frightening experience about 20 years ago. One day while at home she heard burglars breaking into the house. Kim grabbed the cordless phone and ran upstairs, hid under her bed and called 911. Scared to death, she stayed on the line with the 911 dispatcher as the robbers trampled around the very bedroom where she was hiding.

The thieves were caught and arrested that day because Kim was able to contact the 911 center, which dispatched police to the home. In hindsight, I can’t help but wonder what if she didn’t have a landline like so many of us go without today? What if her alarm communications system’s cell service would have failed her? Or what if her cellular-based alarm communications hadn’t kept pace with changing standards due to the changeover/upgrade cost factor?

A High Regard for Signal Transmission

For years our customers have experienced firsthand what happens to GSM cellular devices and POTS under certain conditions. In the aftermath of Hurricane Rita in 2005, for example, one of our customers reported their GSM went down in the storm’s first strong wind gusts.

Cell towers are also susceptible to the elements including hurricanes, wild fi res, earthquake damage, ice storms, and longer term power outages to name a few. More commonly, however, they can have coverage holes and even for areas that do have coverage it is far from uncommon to have temporary coverage lapses for various reasons. To add to that, consider all the additional traffic from smart phones and other Web-enabled devices, not to mention the growing trend for streaming movies. I wonder if the overcrowded lines will make reliability a thing of the past when it comes to GSM and IP alarm communications.

Most people are understandably unaware about alarm communications, and that’s why it is so critical security installers and monitoring providers understand all the options to deliver the best solution to their customers. That includes thinking twice about deploying technologies that could drop signals or take longer to transmit during peak usage, and if it’s fair to the customer if they have to absorb the cost of replacing their system because it’s no longer supported. For their sake, I hope you have learned as I have that there are high-quality alternatives available.

Deanne Guardino-Frazier is Marketing Communications Director for AES Corp., a Peabody, Mass.-based provider of wireless alarm communications products.


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