Long-Range Radio Averts the Pitfalls of POTS

There are several reasons why fire contractors use long-range radio to monitor their clients’ code-compliant fire alarm systems. The primary reasons include, but are not limited to, cost with regard to leasing POTS lines, lack of readily available POTS in newly constructed buildings, the absence of POTS in some remote geographic areas and the unreliability of POTS in some locales.

“We use AlarmNet because it saves us money in the long run due to fewer service calls because of phone outages. It also saves our clients the high expense of paying for two Telco lines,” says Fred Leonardo, president with Electronix Systems of New York. “We’ve been using radio since 1979.”

This month, we will discuss code and technology issues, as well as some of the marketing considerations that are driving the use of standalone, long-range radio systems for central station and supervising station use. Although there may be additional systems on the market, we will only cover three in the interest of space.

POTS Woes Spur Use of Radio
One of the most powerful reasons why life-safety professionals and their clients buy standalone, long-range radio service is aged and largely unreliable POTS systems. A good example of continual POTS line problems takes us to a church in Durham, N.C.

According to John Duan, service technician with Piedmont Fire & Security of Danville, Va., phone service comes and goes, causing the fire alarm panel to go into a supervisory condition.

“The problem is the telephone company is constantly working on the telephone lines. Generally, we don’t get a fault on both lines, but we will get periodic faults on one or the other,” says Duan.

Another reason why fire alarm contractors often turn to long-range radio relates to the absence of POTS in a newly constructed building. In some cases, the local telco may have trouble finding a good pair in an aged and overworked enterprise.

“With AES IntelliNet, we don’t have to rely on the telco lines and neither does the customer. In some cases, the only form of communication is the radio,” says Gary Greenblott, vice president with Alarmco of Las Vegas.

In some cases, especially when working with large corporations and institutions, there may not be any telco lines to connect to. This is especially the case when that organization uses voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) or when phone lines simply are not available at the time.

“Radio is a viable, cost-effective alternative to traditional phone lines. It is especially helpful in circumstances where the subscriber is using VoIP, also when phone service is not available,” says Dean Mason, product manager with Honeywell Security of Syosset, N.Y. “With our 7720ulfplus fire solution, which uses the AlarmNet-A network, you can eliminate the need for telephone lines.”

Cost, Reliability Also Important
Another problem is the potential for damage to POTS lines from an assortment of sources. Possible causes include accidental digging and cutting.

When people dig along the side of the road, on a new construction site, or in someone’s yard, telco lines can be severed. Telco lines can also be accidentally cut when other trades are working in and about a major telephone utility room inside a large structure.

Another possibility is fire. For example, a fire in an underground tunnel in Manchester, England, in March 2004 left hundreds of thousands of people phoneless and possibly unprotected.

According to Manchester Online, a local newspaper, “More than 130,000 telephone lines were disrupted today after a fire in a city centre tunnel. The fire started at 3:30 a.m. in a service tunnel that carries phone and electrical cables beneath Manchester city centre.”

Radio: A Main, Standalone Method
Some years ago, the idea of using a radio alarm transmitter (RAT) for the primary signal path between fire alarm system and supervising station was unheard of. Any knowledgeable installer would have told you there must be a phone line in the mix. Well, that is not always the case today.

“Honestly, with an IntelliNet transceiver, there can be up to eight different pathways to the central station. Due to this, UL signed off on [our radio system] as a standalone reporting method,” says Tom Kenty, general manager with AES of Peabody, Mass.

For many years, radio reporting in the fire alarm arena involved the use of a loop-start POTS line in conjunction with radio. In many cases, this path took the form of the public cellular or private network.

From a code standpoint, two-way, or bidirectional radio reporting systems fall under Type-4 and Type-5 service requirements. This is outlined in Section of NFPA 72, 2002 Edition, or Section 5-5.3.4 of NFPA 72, 1999 Edition. One-way radio systems fall under Type-6 and Type-7 service requirements. This is covered in Section, 2002 Edition, or Section 5-5.3.5 of NFPA 72, 1999 Edition.

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