Digital Left Analog Behind in Past 25 Years

The alarm industry saw many advances in the past 25 years: The transition from analog to digital; perimeter window foil to acoustical glass break; door key shunts to remote keypads; and the move from wired to wireless technology. Other new technologies, such as passive infrared (PIR) sensors, had a rough startup as early units were often unstable and false alarm-prone.

The age of corporate acquisitions and the fast, two-hour install was upon us. I remember one major security firm attempting to “hot glue” its surface mounted cable and sensors on commercial installations. Screws gave way to double-stick tape on quick wireless installs as national and regional companies raced to put the most accounts online – plain old telephone service (POTS) phone line, that is; not the Internet online that came only in the past few years.

In many cases, installation quality and system performance suffered from this corporate greed. The attrition rate of large, national account customers skyrocketed and business returned to the dedicated, smaller installer.

Analog Tape Ripped Up by Digital
With the advent of digital dialers, third-party monitoring stations popped up everywhere. The small alarm dealer could open his own shop, set up digital accounts for only a few dollars a month and begin building his recurring revenue fortune. It was truly the entrepreneurial Wild West of the alarm industry.

With the progression from perimeter security hardware to digital acoustical glass-break detectors came new technical terminology. Such devices now had not just digital chip and transistor technology, but also gave way to advanced circuitry like digital signal processing (DSP) and application specific integrated circuits (ASIC).

Industry surveys state that digital technology accounted for the greatest change in our industry. The slow and noisy analog tape alarm dialer gave way to the modern, fast and efficient programmable digital dialer.

Technology’s Trip From Lab to Field

With the burial of analog, the digital video industry started to take root. Video for alarm confirmation was now provided by digital black-and-white stills. Central stations scrambled to modify systems to synchronize with incoming video. Several systems were reasonably priced and could be easily applied to alarm systems.

Many systems tried to make it from the engineering lab to the field but with little success. It should be required that all design and lab engineers spend at least three months in the field installing and servicing accounts. We’d all be better for it.

Digital Video Killed Tube Cameras

Beyond alarm confirmation, video technology jumped in other areas – including the move that made virtually all CCTV cameras and images driven by solid-state digital CCD arrays. The era of the Vidicon tube cameras came to a thankful end. Stories of image burning are now something we can only tell our children at bedtime and not a common part of the industry.

In the near future, we can look forward to network cameras that with super high resolution and networks able to support real-time high-resolution video. We can then wave goodbye to the frustrations with pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) and lens configurations once the norm when PTZ housings were the size of a big breadbox.

Battle Between Smoke Detectors

In fire technology, the 1970s and the early ’80s led way to the battle of the smoke detectors. The long proven fused-link heat detector led to smoke detectors, and the battle was on to prove which was better – the one with that radioactive element or the one with the reflective photo beam.

During this era, wireless alarm technology took off. In the early years, garage door manufacturers made analog alarm transmitters and receivers that ate batteries in nine months. The frequency spectrum was low and, because it was an analog signal, the radio equipment would drift.

It was standard to see customers once a year to change batteries and retune the equipment – a good thing because dealers often got good sales referrals.

Many dealers remember when companies like Interactive Technologies Inc. (ITI) and Inovonics offered a stable, higher frequency digital transmission. Recently, they perfected military-based spread spectrum technology and made wireless operation more reliable and efficient. I’m sure many of you miss adjusting a coil or capacitor in an analog radio transmitter; boy, I do – NOT!

Customers Still Opting for Dealers

Through the years, I expected new digital wireless systems installations to be more do-it-yourself, but it appears that they are still complex enough for customers to pick the professional dealer as the preferred installer.

I’m glad that my assumptions seem to be wrong, especially because, in many cases, we are dealing with life- safety issues.

I am excited about what we can expect from new security technologies. Soon most motion detectors will be video motion detection, and, in many cases, this technology will be three-dimensional and intelligent enough to identify not only if someone is in the room, but also who that person is. Biometrics may extend to the point where a camera will identify someone by their gait.

The public will understand that not all biometric technology has your DNA or fingerprints, and that large-scale implementation of this technology will make society more stable and secure. We still have a huge educational process ahead of us.
As the features of modern alarm and automation systems become greater, most customers will only venture to turn them off and on. I see many system application opportunities for dealers to make the public aware of all the great things we can do for them with this new technology.

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