Tech Talk: What IP Signals for Your Business

The alarm and security industry is rapidly and inevitably migrating from POTS-based (plain old telephone service) signal and communications transmission to IP and wireless technologies. Security providers must adapt to these changing times in order to best serve their customers and remain competitively relevant in the new era of security communications.

Recently, I had a chance to discuss the status of security industry IP communications with Los Angeles-based Steve Nutt, owner and founder of IP Alarms. Nutt, who started out some decades ago as a security technician and has extensive worldwide IP trade experience, lends insight and guidance on transitioning to these emerging communications channels. 

Recently, I noticed you commenting, ‘the POTS & 2G clocks are ticking.’ What do you see unfolding here?

Steve Nutt: Money is tight and alarm dealers are scared to contact their subscribers for fear of them canceling their accounts. The few that are proactive regarding the pending sunsets are choosing the cellular option for upgrading from POTS. This is because IP is viewed as more complex and there are no education programs available. Even if the whole industry became proactive today, we do not have the manpower to convert 25-30 million systems and beat the sunsets. This situation has created an opening for tech companies from outside the industry that have no subscribers to lose and no fear of IP.

You also commented, ‘Other than providers of 2G cellular solutions, the whole industry knows that the vast majority of monitored systems today will likely end up signaling over IP.’ What about the lack of reliability in IP communications?

Nutt: There is no lack of reliability in IP communications, only a misunderstanding of how best to work around the occasional, short network blip. The industry is insisting on low polling supervision intervals even on residential accounts and this will inevitably cause problems. I agree that there are some badly designed solutions out there from traditional security industry manufacturers that have little understanding of IP. Having IP communicators out there with the ability to only communicate with a single IP address does not help.

Will IP communications redundancy be an effective cure?

[IMAGE]11986[/IMAGE]Nutt: It will help, but once again there is no guidance from a trustworthy source and the industry is fumbling around in the dark. Redundancy is definitely not taken seriously enough by central stations and they tend to shy away from the subject.

What do you suggest as a good precaution now for improving IP communications?

Nutt: I believe the security industry should form a group headed by a person highly respected and trusted by the central station community. The group should seek to obtain as much information as possible on the various solutions and create a list of best practices. Failing that, each central station should conduct its own, thorough investigation.

Do you have any comments on DDos strategies and how much we should be concerned?

Nutt: I cannot comment on DDoS [distributed denial of service] strategies as obscurity forms a very important part of our defense. Central stations should be concerned at least enough to do some research and try to understand how DDoS works and what consequences it could have on their business should it happen to them.

You also commented, ‘The majority of installation techs do not know an IP address from their elbow.’ In what areas do you find techs most deficient?

Nutt: Installation techs tend not to have a good understanding of IP communicators and how they work. IT staff from central stations are also sometimes not really proficient enough to be making decisions on which IP solutions they should be running. There are some very IP-savvy people in our industry, but I think that overall we are not very well prepared to handle mass migration from POTS to IP.

You commented that we should keep a close eye on the WikiLeaks incident. How does this scenario affect present IP monitoring strategies?

Nutt: The WikiLeaks incident has demonstrated how even the largest corporations are vulnerable to attack, and how difficult and expensive it can be to defend against such attacks. UL states that IP receivers must use fixed IP addresses and not domain names. This makes life so much easier for an attacker who wants to prevent alarm signals from reaching an IP receiver. All an attacker needs to do is flood the IP address with packets so the receiver becomes overwhelmed and genuine alarm packets cannot get through. I feel the industry has been let down by UL on this and steps should be taken to remedy the situation as soon as possible.

About the Author

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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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