Tech Talk: Monitoring Major Changes in Central Station Communications

Technology and customer desires are conspiring to create a wealth of sales prospects for those offering central station monitoring solutions. The question is: Are you up for the challenges that cashing in entails? Learn about the hot trends and the view from the top.

This month we see what some of the experts are saying about the latest in central station monitoring communications. Monitoring represents one of the leading ways to generate recurring monthly revenue in a post-recession climate hell-bent on RMR growth. Meanwhile, new technologies and market trends are enabling an array of emerging services and opportunities, mixed with challenges and potential threats as well. The monitoring future indeed appears bright; however, take heed of what those in the know have to share. 

3 Leading Tech Trends for 2012

In June, discussions, sessions and research at the Electronic Security Expo (ESX) identified the top technology trends for 2012. Many of them have a direct relationship to the rapidly changing world of central station communications. Here are some highlights of this important trade discussion:

Alternative signal (alt-sig) transmission — The demise of the plain old telephone service (POTS) is in full motion. Studies show that 25% of American homes have only a cellphone and no landline. Even with landline phones there is a high likelihood that it is fed by a VoIP connection. According to the 2012 Electronic Security Association (ESA) Annual Megatrends Research Reports, 88% of ESA members are working with alt-sig. This includes cellular, IP/VoIP/broadband and radio.

Video monitoring — Being able to visually verify what is happening at the scene of an alarm is valuable. The development of protocols to make sure installations are checked and verified for viewing is critical. The popularity of video monitoring and verification is now being emphasized in municipalities such as Detroit, San Jose, Calif., and Los Angeles.

Hosted video — According to IMS Research, the world market for cloud-based video surveillance (or video surveillance as a service; VSaaS) could double by 2014 to a $1 billion market. “Growth in the VSaaS market is a result of increasing demand from consumer, small-to-medium businesses and government end users. Also, an increasing number of entrants to the market has accelerated growth of service development, marketing presence and is also creating a more competitive environment,” says Sam Grinter, market analyst at IMS Research.

Diebold Exec Identifies Key Issues

I had the distinct advantage of being able to pose a few questions to Jacky Grimm, vice president of Security Solutions and Business Development for Diebold Security. She offers a great vantage point from her important position within one of the industry’s true security systems installation and monitoring providers.

What are the three biggest technical issues facing central station communications today?

Jacky Grimm: One is accommodating a customer’s existing network infrastructure. More often than not, the network is built for a core functionality other than security. By themselves, alarm panel networks aren’t bandwidth hogs. An issue can arise when security signals sent through shared external bandwidth “pipes” become datarich transmissions, such as the case with video. Though video isn’t streaming live 24/7, when something happens, you need video so everyone can look at it.

A typical best practice is to set priorities within a customer’s network. Quality-of-service [QoS] priorities determine the order of operations for network communications, so that in the case of an event, important security transmissions get through first.

A monitoring provider must work to set up firewall rules with a customer. The most effective monitoring occurs when a central station can interface directly with a customer network — the firewalls are in sync and network access rules are in place. Proper firewall access would allow a central station to access devices on the network, such as alarm panels, once they are identified by IP address.

Correlating external IP addresses with a customer network requires Network Address Translations or NATing. This requires the challenge of reconfiguring numbers on either end of an access point via a translation table, managing changes to devices, network and IP addresses. You must monitor the system to ensure all components are working correctly.

These strategies are not “set it and forget it” procedures. Monitoring companies must be aware of how changes impact the transmission of security communication signals.

How is Diebold addressing the ASAP to PSAP evolution? How quickly do you see this technology progressing?

Grimm: Diebold is a charter member of the CSAA [Central Station Alarm Association] ASAP. The challenge now for ASAP to PSAP is connecting through a gateway to a police department’s 911 system. Although many monitoring centers are ready, there are hundreds of thousands of 911 systems not currently upgraded.

For now, roadblocks for ASAP to PSAP relate to economics in local governments. Other than tapping into the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications network [NLETs] — which is only available in some geographies — upgrading software still seems to be the solution for most municipalities.

A lot of the hard work has been done on the monitoring center to accommodate ASAP. The plan is in place for ASAP to PSAP, but the next step is to ensure law enforcement officials have the funding necessary to upgrade their systems and get onboard.

What challenges do you see in the near future for central station communication technologies?

Grimm: First, dial-up, or POTS, lines will be completely phased out in the next three to five years. Secondly, AT&T announced that it will have completely shut down its 2G cellular network by 2017. While these two transitions don’t affect every security device, many customers continue to use 2G and POTS lines as backup.

Are there any central station communications issues you believe are going to be “game-changers” in the near future?

Grimm: As technology evolves, the biggest game-changer will be price. Currently, Diebold delivers video verification through individual frames, which is far less expensive than the bandwidth-intensive live streaming video from a remote location. The same can be said for advanced technologies like 4G wireless: it allows monitoring of video in a secure manner and it’s fast. But for remote IP video, it can be expensive.

Video compression techniques have become more robust and the price of networking has continued to drop over the years. Even so, storing video data locally is a cost-effective alternative to live streaming video through external networks 24/7. To provide customers with a cost-effective option other than investing in a costly data center to store video, Diebold offers third-party video storage.

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About the Author


Bob is currently a Security Sales & Integration "Tech Talk" columnist and a contributing technical writer. Bob installed his first DIY home intercom system at the age of 13, and formally started his technology career as a Navy communication electronics technician during the Vietnam War. He then attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering and went on to complete a Security Management program at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Since 1976, Bob has served in a variety of technical, training and project management positions with organizations such ADT, Rollins, National Guardian, Lockheed Martin, American Alarm Supply, Sonitrol and Ingersoll Rand. Early in his career, Bob started and operated his own alarm dealership. He has also served as treasurer of the Wisconsin Burglar and Fire Alarm Association and on Security Industry Association (SIA) standards committees. Bob also provides media and training consulting to the security industry.

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