The Rising Tide of IP Alarm Communication

Using Ethernet technology to transmit alarm signals is the future of the security industry. Coming to maturation at a time when the sun has set on advanced mobile phone service (AMPS) equipment, Internet protocol (IP) alarm communication is the technology dealers must now consider to best serve their commercial and residential customers’ long-term interests.

By sending alarm signals via the Internet instead of plain old telephone service (POTS) lines, alarm dealers can ensure their installations are compatible with emerging hardware for years to come. Beyond compatibility, the efficiency of alarm transmission will be in line with the latest standards, such as the 9th edition of UL 864, which goes into effect Dec. 31, 2008.

IP Boosts System Efficiency
Most alarm hardware vendors now offer systems that facilitate IP communication with the central station.

“The industry appears to be considering movement in that direction. Many hardware vendors have packages that allow remote reporting and remote interaction where the system checks in or has a signal automatically sent to the central station,” says Ken Gentile, a senior consulting fire-protection engineer for Rolf Jensen & Associates Inc. “Supplemental annunciation of some fire alarm systems are already transmitting supervisory and alarm conditions over Internet.” 

The reason fire signals are “supplemental” is that NFPA 72, the National Fire Alarm Code, has not made clear provisions for IP alarm communication. 

“NFPA 72 does not specifically prohibit sending alarms over the Internet,” Gentile points out. “I think the biggest issues are that you need certain back-up provisions, replications, supervision capabilities. Offsite reporting of fire alarm system conditions must have reliability and survivability.” 

Prepare for New Code Compliance
To transmit fire alarm signals in compliance with NFPA 72 requires meeting the standards set forth by UL 827 (Standards for Central Station Alarm Services), which also means being in line with UL 864 (Standard for Control Units for Fire-Protective Signaling Systems).

The significance of UL 864 is that the 9th edition, which was updated from the standard written in 1986, dramatically cuts allowable time to transmit signals from the initiating device to the panel. Previously, a 90-second signal processing time for annunciation of an alarm from the time an initiating device was tripped was acceptable. The new standard narrows the window for alarm transmission down to 10 seconds. And because UL 864 is an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard, it is the law of the land. 

This is a direct reflection of the capabilities that the digital age has brought to life-safety systems. It also foreshadows where the industry “performance-requirements” are heading, code-wise. 

“Any innovations that manufacturers might be developing may be released at the 2008 World Safety Conference & Exposition in June,” Gentile says. “If the codes and listing agencies accept the technology, IP alarm communication could begin to come into use soon.” 

For intrusion alarms, acceptance and use of IP alarm communication is further down the road with about a dozen manufacturers already offering systems. This wide breadth of platforms gives dealers many choices when putting a new system together and allows easy retrofits to upgrade customers to the next-generation technology. 


New Strategies Will Be Required
With an estimated 26 million legacy alarm systems in place across the United States, alarm dealers must look to direct IP alarm communication using broadband connections as the bridge to the next generation of hardware devices.

Taking into account that the new UL 864 requirements call for dramatically faster communication between initiating devices and alarm annunciation, the next logical step is to streamline alarm transmission from the panel to the central station. That’s because traditional alarm communication from the panel to the central station usually takes between 30 to 60 seconds. With IP transmission, communication is almost instantaneous. 

“The codes will require a back-up like wireless or cellular and the software would have to be designed such so that it would automatically kick in if there was a failure,” Gentile says of IP communication. “But the cost differential is minimal between the two technologies. Once the codes accept it, IP communication will be the better way to do it.”

Kevin Lehan is manager of public relations for Chicago-based EMERgency24 and has 10 years of experience writing about the built environment. Lehan maintains a security industry blog at He can be contacted at (773) 725-0222, ext. 6917, or via E-mail, [email protected].

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