Brass Tacks of Alarm Signal Communications

Advancements in cellular and IP communications have created both upheaval and value-add sales opportunities for alarm dealers. Learn fundamental details, including pros and cons, about these various types of communication pathways and strategies on how to deal with them.

Odds are pretty good that most people have their mobile phone with them at all times, whether they are walking down the street, grabbing a coffee at the local café or jogging along a trail. In recent years the pervasiveness of mobile phones, in particular smartphones, has greatly impacted how individuals communicate. This shift in communication also appears to be impacting how home alarm systems communicate.

According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 56% of American adults currently use a smartphone, up from 46% in 2012 and 35% in 2011. It’s safe to say this trend will grow, resulting in more and more homeowners not using, or choosing to not install, a landline. So how will security alarms communicate with a central monitoring station if they can no longer send or receive calls over a house’s landline? 

The changing communication landscape represents a possibility for security dealers to review installation procedures and the communication technologies they support. Doing so will illuminate the breadth of newfound sales opportunities that become possible when migrating customers from traditional systems. This review will help ensure dealers have best practices in place to promote business success and ensure customer safety and satisfaction as communication technologies evolve.

Understanding Attributes of Pathway Types

Today, there are four primary communication technologies available when installing a security system: landline telephone, cellular, Internet (Ethernet, be it wired or wireless) and wireless mesh network. Each communications approach has its pros and cons depending on the situation in which they are deployed.  Following is a look at each technology and some things to consider as you determine whether any or all of these may make sense for your business and the customers you serve.

Landline telephone — Given the trends in communication technologies used in homes and businesses today, many industry experts anticipate the landline telephone will soon be obsolete. However, user communication preferences and behavior also play a role in determining whether connecting an alarm system via a landline telephone makes sense for an installation.

If a home has an active landline installed and the owner is committed to maintaining the service to their landline connection, the security system can use the landline as one of its communication channels to transmit alarm signals to the central station. As a best practice in the world of growing smartphone usage, the landline should not be the only way for a home alarm system to communicate with the central monitoring station.

Landlines tend to restrict the amount and kinds of data communication infrastructure can handle. They cannot transmit data-intensive services like remote management or home automation, which restricts the dealer’s ability to sell added-value services such as integrated home automation, remote services and system health alerts.  As a result, dealers with customers committed to landlines will miss out on new recurring monthly revenue (RMR) streams.

The inability to sell additional services poses a real business challenge for security dealers. Competition in the security business continues to heat up as nontraditional companies begin to offer home security as part of an overall services package. In this environment, to remain competitive security dealers need the ability to offer added-value services like integrated home automation and remote control, in addition to traditional security technologies.

Cellular communication — This method is one of the most popular installation options for today’s security professionals. Installing a cellular radio is usually easier than connecting to a landline connection, as there are no difficult wires to run. Plus, in many cases a landline connection is not available.

In comparison to an IP connection, cellular communication also allows a homeowner to use their security system in locations where a hardwired Internet connection may be unavailable. Unlike Internet connections, cellular signal providers do not have scheduled maintenance downtime. With a cellular connection, the communication channel is deployed for always on availability.

Another benefit of cellular communication is bandwidth. Similar to Internet connections, a cellular connection has enough bandwidth to handle a more varied and larger data traffic stream than a landline telephone line. More bandwidth allows dealers to provide their customers with a host of value-added services.

The primary challenge with a cellular connection is the limited shelf life of a specific cellular technology. Older signals, like 2G now have a limited life. Last year, AT&T confirmed it will transition its network to 3G and 4G, and no longer support 2G service after Jan. 1, 2017. This transition requires dealers that installed 2G cellular transmitters in alarm panels to begin swapping them out to ensure customers do not lose communications. Security professionals need to be prepared for signal transmission protocols to be replaced eventually with more advanced technology. 

Internet: Wired — A hardwired Ethernet connected security system is the best option when dealers have access to an IP network connection. If a dealer cannot easily access the Ethernet connection, they will need to evaluate the cost of running wire to the alarm panel or controller. In most cases this cost will supersede the benefits of a hardwired connection.

The primary benefit of a hardwired Ethernet connection is increased bandwidth speeds. In most cases, though, homeowners will see comparable speeds from a cellular connection. Like cellular communications, an Ethernet connected security system provides ability to deliver added-value offerings like remote services to customers.   

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