Airing Wireless Intrusion Applications

A security system without wires — can it be done professionally and be considered a true alarm system? Can it be sophisticated enough for even the harshest of old-time critics? I have watched this technology grow through the years and, while I cannot speak for all the old-time critics, I can say wireless systems today offer versatile, exciting technologies for security systems installations and operations.

This month, we will look at some of the latest applications of wireless intrusion technology and some hints as to where it will be going in this new decade.

Answering the Retrofit Challenge
Let me get it out upfront. Whenever possible, nothing can match a well designed and wired security system. Dedicated cabling will always offer the best conduit for reliable communications. However, as we in the security industry know, a large part of our work is retrofitting structures that are years behind the technology we have today. Nothing is more efficient and effective at retrofit security installations than wireless devices.

If I have a few complaints about wireless security applications they would be similar to those I have about any security installation: They are often sloppily installed and without a good understanding of the technology in each specific application. Wireless lets you place sensors almost anywhere; however, it is important to know the limitations of these devices and the correct application guidelines. False alarms can increase because it is so easy to place a wireless PIR or acoustical glass break sensor anywhere.

When selecting a wireless security technology try to look for features that will make the application very reliable and therefore consistent in performance. After all, the goal is to have an alarm system work correctly every time, right? This sounds simple, but can often be a bit more of a challenge with wireless devices since it can be harder to get them to perform consistently.

I prefer spread spectrum technology in which signals in a particular bandwidth are deliberately spread in a frequency domain. So, as environments change, the wireless system can automatically find a frequency to get through. Remember, though not typical, the source of radio frequency interference(RFI) could be manmade in an effort to jam system communications.

Spread spectrum technology is so reliable that it is used by our military. One particular vendor of this technology is Louisville, Colo.-based Inovonics, which also OEMs for national security equipment companies like Bosch and DMP. Inovonics has also stayed with the 900MHz frequency range that allows for better structure penetration and less interference than many of today’s GHz operating devices.

Fleshing Out Mesh Technology
As a general practice, any security system, whether wired or wireless, is considerably better if it has redundancy in devices and services. One area of wireless redundancy appearing more frequently on the scene is the application of mesh networking technology.

Technologies such as that of Z-Wave of Milpitas, Calif., and through the ZigBee Alliance include sensors and devices that act as transceivers rather than just transmitters. This allows for alternate communication paths from the activated sensor back to the system controller. Redundancy can also be achieved in larger systems, like Inovonics, by the use of strategically placed repeaters. The alternate repeater communication paths allow for a high level of wireless system performance and reliability. However, I am still waiting to see a larger use of the mesh concept in security.

End-to-End Wireless Security
What is exciting in today’s wireless security applications is that the signal can also be sent to the central station via wireless channels such as Amityville, N.Y.-based Napco’s GPRS/GSM cellular StarLink or dedicated radio networks such as that from Peabody, Mass.-based AES/Intelli-Net.

Keep in mind that alarm reporting technologies can have some degree of vulnerability and possible compromise from readily available, inexpensive radio jamming devices. I have recently written about this concept and my concern is that, in the future, this will become as common as cut phone lines are now in defeating basic alarm systems. Cut phone lines do not happen that often, but they do happen. How often do you educate your customers about inherent vulnerabilities in the system they are purchasing?

Keep an eye out in the future. There are products, such as the GE864 module from Italian company Telit Wireless Solutions (U.S. headquarters in Raleigh, N.C.).

You may see this device, which can provide the capability of GSM/BPRS anti-jamming measures, being provided insecurity controls.

Where and How Wi-Fi Fits In
It has become common for today’s households to have Internet access and a Wi-Fi wireless router that supplies connectivity for multiple PCs, laptops, iPhones, gaming consoles, etc. These connections also provide WPA data encryption, which is less vulnerable than the more commonly known WEP encryption.

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About the Author


Bob is currently a Security Sales & Integration "Tech Talk" columnist and a contributing technical writer. Bob installed his first DIY home intercom system at the age of 13, and formally started his technology career as a Navy communication electronics technician during the Vietnam War. He then attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering and went on to complete a Security Management program at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Since 1976, Bob has served in a variety of technical, training and project management positions with organizations such ADT, Rollins, National Guardian, Lockheed Martin, American Alarm Supply, Sonitrol and Ingersoll Rand. Early in his career, Bob started and operated his own alarm dealership. He has also served as treasurer of the Wisconsin Burglar and Fire Alarm Association and on Security Industry Association (SIA) standards committees. Bob also provides media and training consulting to the security industry.

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