POTS Phase-Out No Cause for Alarm Say Some

As the FCC signals the end of plain old telephone service (POTS), alarm industry insiders say they aren’t worried because market trends are already making broadband favorable to copper-wire transmission for professionally monitored fire and intrusion systems.

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan includes language that a convergence of IP-based services including voice, data and video that use broadband transmission will eventually predominate for signaling as well before any regulatory requirements bring an end to POTS and the (public switched telephone networks (PSTN) infrastructure.

“Some 70,000 [POTS] lines are cancelled every month,” Ed Bonifas, president of the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA), tells SSI. “The alarm industry dealing with the demise of POTS has little to do with the regulation of the alarm industry. Consumers are driving this.”

Carriers such as AT&T and Verizon are also bailing out on POTS. For example, Verizon is transitioning its FiOS bundled communications service to voice over Internet protocol (VoIP).

Costs of maintaining the copper lines are growing. Between 2003 and 2009, the average cost per line increased almost 20 percent, according to the FCC.

AT&T has argued it can produce faster bandwidth in 5 to 7 years by eliminating switching networks.

Where does that leave the approximately 6 million alarm panels now screwed to walls? In the April issue of SSI’s “Fire Side Chat Column,” Rick Alvarez, president of Nova Security Systems Inc. in Fullerton, Calif., made the legacy equipment argument that broadband doesn’t achieve the five-nines reliability of POTS.

Broadband carries other advantages, especially during burglaries when a cut phone line can cause a communication breakdown that may not be detected right away, says Mark Fischer, vice president of New York Merchant Protective Co. Inc.

“I disagree with the five-nines reliability of the POTS standard communications,” Fischer says. “In an IP system, they tend to be more troublesome, but at least when there’s an occurrence of a break-in you know about it immediately.”

VoIP services also enable two-way voice communication for personal emergency response systems (PERS).

To retain existing legacy alarm panels, integrators can install onsite dialer capture modules (such as Bosch’s C900 and AES IntelliNet’s radio-based IntelliTap) that use a variety of protocols to move signal to a central station.

The Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC), which includes representatives from CSAA and the Electronic Security Association (ESA), is closely monitoring this situation.

Although the FCC is looking to phase out POTS by 2014, it appears the alarm industry will be well on its way to embracing the new technology by then.

“It’s a major change to live without phone lines but the sky is not falling,” Bonifas adds. “The sunset is not going to be a bad day for us. Something else that has voice communication will be there to take its place.”

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