Weighing the Alternatives

Since the turn of the millennia, residential customers have been adding wireless communication technologies such as cell phones by the millions and rapidly removing their old hardwired telephone landline. Both of these rates have escalated drastically in the past couple of years due to the economic downturn. More affordable cell phone services have made Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) an unnecessary luxury.

It is now more common to face the possibility of having to install an alarm system at a facility lacking POTS. Manufacturers are scrambling to provide reliable alternative communication choices. This month, we’ll take a look at some of those offerings. But first, a history lesson is order.

The Alternative Lifestyle

Working with alternative alarm communications has proven valuable to me since I came into the industry as an alarm dealer in the early 1970s. I always refer to that era as the Wild West days of electronic security. Technology was changing quickly. It was fun for those willing to venture into the new communications arena. One of the long established communication methods relied on by the large national companies was the McCulloh Loop. This circuit consisted of an earth ground return. Multiplex circuits that allowed many circuits to be monitored were consider high-tech. And there was a direct wire circuit noted by a meter/alarm box at the central office.

However, smaller independent alarm dealers began competing with less complicated services such as the tape dialer and the digital dialer. This allowed many to offer third-party monitoring and build an account base. Their economical monitoring services appealed to the residential and small commercial security markets as both were able to be transmitted over POTS lines. While the tape dialer was short-lived, the digital dialer went on to live a good life of at least 30 years.

The digital dialer was the bread and butter of the recurring monitoring market, I realized early on that if I was going to compete with everyone else’s digital dialer services I had to provide something a little more secure and attractive. And so began my work with alternative communications.

In my case, I had designed my own short-range Linear radio repeater system that would send an alarm signal to a phone dialer in another part of the dwelling; similar to what the GE Simon does today. In some cases I would send an RF relay signal to another nearby building and then out over an Acron DD-2 digital dialer. This appealed to customers who had more to risk but did not want to lease a direct wire circuit.

The next great step was by the manufacturer ITI, which established the capability of having a wireless mesh type network. If the network’s primary digital phone circuit was compromised, a secondary alarm was sent via RF to a neighbor’s ITI alarm panel and then sent out over the other alarm system phone dialer.

It was no secret early on that if a phone line was cut, standard digital communications could easily be compromised. Alternative methods of communications were available for those creative enough to find and use them. This strategy holds true today.

Vital Issues for VoIP

Shift forward to the present day. We now have another alternative to traditional landlines. For residential customers voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) is a seductive, new technology. However, there are some shortcomings with VoIP.

Many nontechnical customers and overzealous VoIP marketers do not understand the consequences of misapplying VoIP technology. As most of us know it is important to insert the alarm transmission device at the head-end of the phone system using an RJ-31X device to isolate the phones.

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