Experts Share Latest Tips, Trends & Opportunities in Alarm Signal Transmission

Changes and advances in cellular and IP-based alarm system communications have brought about a mix of panic, challenges, improvements and opportunities.

Experts Share Latest Tips, Trends & Opportunities in Alarm Signal Transmission

Leading panel/communicator suppliers discuss new-gen devices and modules, with recommendations how dealers can deploy, update and profit.

Alarm signal transmission  has seen some significant changes over the years, but none nearly so dramatic as those catalyzed by advances in cellular and IP-based communications.

These leaps in technology have found some dealers scrambling to keep legacy customers current with primary and backup burglary and fire alarm communications to the central station.

But the good news is with these changes come some smokin’ hot opportunities for dealers working the life-safety sector. Now is a prime time for them to reach out to and better serve their customer base.

Some of the industry’s leading alarm panel/communicator suppliers share insights on the latest generation of devices, modules and recommendations for dealers to deploy, update and, yes, profit from.

Changing Complexion of Communications

With the advent of Internet and other wireless technologies, it’s no secret that phone companies are no longer able to maintain the aging infrastructure for the plain old telephone systems (POTS) network. This has opened up unprecedented opportunities for security and fire alarm dealers.

Tom Karl, vice president of business development for Napco Security Technologies, advises these dealers put together a program that allows them to approach their commercial customer base as well as new customers with the offer to save them hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year by replacing their fire alarm control panel (FACP) dedicated POTS lines with commercial fire alarm communicators.

If the typical dedicated POTS line costs a customer $75 a month, with two lines costing $150 a month, he reasons, that’s an $1,800 annual bill dealers can eliminate for them by replacing it with a fire alarm communicator with a much less expensive cellular/IP fee.

The RMR that had been going to the phone company can now be redirected to their company, he points out. And, when proposing this to larger accounts with multiple locations, the savings grow exponentially.

“The commercial accounts have, in many cases, already experienced the effect of the POTS sunset, such as being denied service of copper POTS lines for their commercial fire and burglar alarms,” he says. “As these lines fail and cause system troubles on the fire alarm they have no choice but to move to an alternative communication path. They are already primed for this deal.”

Tom Mechler, application design manager for Bosch Security Systems, concurs that cellular charges can be well below the cost of dedicated phone lines.

“Cellular is faster, more reliable, less expensive and provides higher security,” he says. “And, it’s an additional RMR opportunity for dealers, whereas with POTS they couldn’t charge. Now they can save the customer money and still make money on it themselves. It’s a win-win-win.”

Russell Vail, president and CEO of ipDatatel, points out that the advent of Internet Protocol to transmit alarm signals has made them much more reliable.

“Now we can enjoy a good IP connection, and with the broadband communication we have today, they’re very stable. I recommend getting a dual path, cellular and IP communication. It supplies dealers with good redundancy.”

Mechler adds that there are devices that allow dealers to convert a fire alarm system to a cellular or IP communication. “If they’re making adjustments to a fire alarm system, say they’re going out to a customer’s building to replace an alarm control panel, and need to bring the entire system up to code. Now we have conversion dual alarm communication devices that can convert an existing fire panel to IP or cellular without making any changes to the system, without the expense of replacing the entire system. This should be an easy sell especially if the end user is paying monthly phone charges. There’s a good ROI in a short time.”

Warren Hill, product marketing leader/security, safety and smart home products for Interlogix, advises that alarm systems benefit by being periodically updated to add new functionality.

“Having panels connected to the Internet via IP is the most cost-effective way to upgrade those systems,” he says.

Put Out Fires Before They Start

By staying informed on the newest codes and technologies to meet them, there are several resources dealers can seek out. Vail, who sits on The Monitoring Association’s (TMA, formerly CSAA) Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC), says the group is a good way for dealers to stay updated.

Referencing Section 251 where the FCC has been retiring wire centers with little to no notice, he cautions that dealers who’d been counting on telephone lines may not have realized it.

“We’ve always said that the new line for the future is Internet Protocol communication; they should look to that path as the primary or secondary communication path,” says Vail, who also highly recommends being a member of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and keeping up with all the codes.

Dave Mayne, vice president of marketing for Resolution Products, encourages dealers to stay engaged in various industry organizations such as the Security Industry Association (SIA) and Electronic Security Association (ESA).

Industry associations, both regionally and nationally, can be excellent resources for education, he advises. Similarly, dealers should remain abreast of educational and training opportunities provided by manufacturers.

“Even if they’re not their core suppliers, they should look at all the different providers because everyone is staying engaged with different communication technologies and shares the information through industry organizations,” says Mayne. “We also share on social media and on our website. It’s tough to stay on top of it but key for dealers.”

Mechler mentions that local alarm associations often offer training when they have their meetings and events, and that dealers should make sure they know when they’re available, go to trade shows, talk to their suppliers and find out what the latest products are.

“It’s incumbent on them to know what’s going on. And for fire, know who their Authorities Having Jurisdiction [AHJs] are and make sure the AHJs know them. That AHJ is going to make the decision if their system meets the requirements, and if they’re familiar with the dealer and the types of the systems they install it will make things easier for everyone.”

Conquering the Challenges

While opportunities abound in the fire sector with the introduction of new, often cost-saving technologies, there remain some challenges dealers/integrators face to keep legacy systems updated with current primary and backup burglar and fire alarm communications to the central station. Technologies are bringing more capabilities and consumers are becoming savvier.

As Mayne highlights, they are familiar with changing out their cell-phones or computers to get the latest and greatest. If a customer has a traditional security system without home automation features, a dealer can approach that customer and provide enhanced controls and notifications.

“If they can bring new technologies to business and/or residential customer that give them more value, they shouldn’t say, ‘I’m replacing your communicator,’ but rather, ‘I have new technology and it allows home automation and controls. I want you to have the latest and greatest and I’m going to bring it to you. I’m watching out for you and have new technology for you.’ They should build their messaging around that,” Mayne advises.

Mechler notes that cost and justification in budgets and time are always a challenge. Most people don’t want to invest in fixing something they think is working properly, but as he points out end users should put new technologies into their budget so they don’t get to a point where their system stops working. Dealers, he says, must make sure the customer understands the value of their investment.

Skillsets Needed for Success

Although advances in cellular and IP-based communications can present new business opportunities for dealers/integrators, not all are equipped or credentialed to serve this market. What skillsets, qualifications or certifications should a dealer/integrator possess to work success-fully in this sector?

And for those dealers/integrators who have worked successfully in this sector in the past, what are some of the “new normal” need-to-know technologies/codes, advances in cellular and IP-based communications, that they must stay on top of to continue to be successful in the life-safety sector?

Karl says while all technicians should be certified and ideally NICET trained in fire alarm installation, Napco’s StarLink fire alarm communicators have been designed to be extremely easy to install configure and program, with no special training needed to install the device. “Those trained in fire alarm technology should have no trouble all,” he says.

Vail concurs dealers don’t really have to have a tremendous amount of networking knowledge because most devices today are plug-and-play and the ability to do both cellular and IP gives them flexibility. The need for more knowledge beyond their existing fire knowledge, he contends, is not so much needed, but they must be sure to follow local codes and standards.

Mayne adds that the regulatory side itself, UL and Intertek’s ETL, are staying very active in new communication technologies and building certification programs that will allow the industry to stay compliant for reliability and supervision. The UL standards we’ve relied on for years are keeping up with the new technologies, he says, and manufacturers need to build products that don’t require installers to become IP experts.

“Do dealers have to understand what an Ethernet port is and connect properly? Obviously, yes,” says Mayne. “But we build testing tools that guarantee the communications are going correctly, so we don’t burden them with complete new trainings. Rather, we provide them with the tools to make sure they’re meeting regulatory requirements and have tools to know the system is working before they leave, and do diagnostics remotely that they couldn’t do before.”

Mechler echoes that manufacturers want to keep dealers trained. “Dealers should rely on that, and have a close relationship with your their manufacturer. Stick with one that you trust and work well with and understand the products. That’s the best way.”

View the slideshow above for a look at some of the latest alarm communicators now available.

Erin Harrington has 20+ years of editorial, marketing and PR experience within the security industry. Contact her at

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