As new alarm transmission technologies are deployed and client systems are upgraded, proper connection of transmitters to the receiving central station can provide new challenges for alarm technicians. Here are some common problems that can occur during the connection process, and some tips on how to surmount them.

Cellular Alarm Transmission

How are cellular alarm signals received differently at the central station?

Most manufacturers’ cellular transmitters are connected to the digital communicator output of the alarm panel, and provide an alternate path for transmitting digital-style alarm signals from the client to the central station. This means that, theoretically, the central station may not even know that a particular account has a backup cellular transmitter installed, as the subscriber’s alarm signals will be received in the same manner, and on the same receiver line, as signals arriving over POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service).

What can be different when digital alarm signals are received from cellular transmitters is the “Caller ID” information that comes in with most digital signals received at the central station. The cellular transmitter may have a different area code and/or local exchange prefix, which may cause central station operators to question the source of an alarm transmission; as what their screen shows them as the Caller ID isn’t the same as what they’ve received previously from the same account number when POTS signals have been received.

It’s important to inform your central station of the installation of a backup cellular transmitter to avoid any confusion.

What tests should be conducted on a cellular alarm transmitter during installation?

In addition to testing that alarm activations from the client’s system reach the central station, the signal strengths of the cellular transmitter must be confirmed by the installing technician. It’s important to understand that “receive” and “transmit” signal strengths may vary widely, with “transmit” strength being of utmost importance. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, “transmit” signal strength must be tested for each installation so that the minimum recommended readings are achieved. Relocation of a transmitter and/or its antenna may be necessary.

IP Alarm Transmission

Which IP alarm transmitter can be used with a particular control panel?

IP (Internet Protocol) alarm transmitters send their signals over the Internet, and generally provide some type of regular polling from the central station for supervision. The number and types of IP alarm transmitters available are growing, as all major alarm panel manufacturers are producing devices for this market segment.

The choice of which IP alarm transmitter to select for a particular installation boils down to two primary factors: what type of alarm panel is in place, and which IP alarm receivers are available at the central station of your choice?

From the receiver’s perspective, the choices can be made very simply. Most manufacturers’ IP alarm receivers will only receive signals from their own manufactured transmitters.

If the central station has a variety of IP-capable receivers, installers are faced with a choice of which type to use with a particular subscriber’s control/communicator. Remember that IP alarm transmitters must translate alarm panel outputs into TCP/IP packets, and transmit them over a LAN or the Internet to be received. So the primary factor in selecting an IP alarm transmitter is what types of outputs are available from the control panel to which the IP device is to be connected. Some IP transmitters provide inputs for voltage triggers, while others can be activated by a pulse/steady sounder output, differentiating two different types of alarm signals. Other transmitters are proprietary to specific versions of their parent manufacturer’s panels. Bosch provides an IP alarm transmitter that accepts the digital dialer outputs of most alarm controls and converts them to TCP/IP, although they must be received by a Bosch receiver.

Remote Video Monitoring

My subscribers want their video systems monitored. What do I need to know before attempting to sell and install this service?

Remote video monitoring is a highly effective and service-oriented offering where corners should not be cut. You should be prepared to present prospects with pricing structures much higher than standard alarm monitoring. Video monitoring is a labor-intensive service, which drives up costs and central station overhead, but the success rate pays off almost immediately to customers with histories of crime and vandalism. Video monitoring can yield nearly 80 percent more captures and arrests than traditional alarm monitoring, based on one central station’s experiences.

When choosing a system to install, consult with your central station first. There are hundreds of video systems on the market, and you need to be sure that the one you choose will be compatible with your central station’s software platforms.

Also be sure to test the installed system with the central station to ensure that pan/tilt/zoom controls are functioning properly, that camera placement in all areas is optimum, and that lighting conditions are appropriate for the environment to be monitored. The monitoring personnel can be your best allies in determining the effectiveness of the installation, and the installation should be focused on maximizing an operator’s ability to view, detect, and react to incidents.

Video systems work best with broadband connections. When establishing an IP address for your subscriber, you are best served by ordering the IP yourself. Amortize the monthly Internet service fees into the customer’s monitoring bill. This allows you full control over the connection. When you control the IP address for the subscriber, you ensure that the bills are always paid, that you can resolve a failed connection quickly, and that the customer suffers no down time. – Contributed by Bret Bass, interactive video monitoring (IVM) administrator, Criticom Int’l, based in its Irvine, Calif., location.

Sidebar: Long-Range Radio Transmission

How can I be sure of proper signal strength?

Although different long-range radio vendors may use different technologies and frequencies for their signal transmissions, certain factors remain constant regardless of the vendor. Placing the radio and/or its remote antenna in the highest available location within a building will provide the best possible radio signaling, as will placing the transmitter/antenna on the inside of an outside wall. Check carefully for any large metal objects or structural components (foil-backed insulation, for example) that might block the radio signal’s path to a receiving tower. Knowledge of where the closest tower is (north, south, east, and west) in relation to the client’s building can indicate the best possible location for the transmitter within the building.

Be careful of installations in single-story buildings, particularly if the installation is at the fringe of the network’s coverage area. The system may work fine when tested, but the parking of a truck, trailer, or bus next to the building may block the radio signals.


The following individuals contributed subject-matter assistance to the author: Tim Newman, Infinity Monitoring, Elk Grove Village, Ill.; Jim Osborne, American Response Center, Euclid, Ohio; and Chris Coleman, Honeywell/Alarmnet, Syosset, N.Y.