It’s not future-speak: the Internet is an increasingly popular way to monitor burglar and fire alarm signals, and, it meets the requirements of Underwriters Laboratories and many other fire codes and authorities.

Some folks believe the Internet and data network monitoring may someday replace traditional digital alarm communication transmission, especially as more and more users migrate to high-speed communications such as broadband (cable) and digital subscriber lines or DSL.

Ed Bonifas, vice president of Alarm Detection Systems Inc., Aurora, Ill., believed long ago that “the Internet was where monitoring was destined to go. We wanted to position ourselves ahead of the curve – not to be reactive – but to help set the stage,” Bonifas says of the move of some customers to Internet-based monitoring. “As a service and marketing tool, it’s one of the best out there.”

ADS is a privately owned, UL-listed central station alarm company. It currently has several hundred customers using Internet or private data networks for monitoring signals. The alarm company, which ranks as No. 21 on the SDM 100, counts more than 23,000 total alarm subscribers.

“The power of the Internet can effectively expand the capabilities of the customer and the central station,” Bonifas says. “With tools such as a Web pad at the customer’s location, a client can have what amounts to a browser that lets them access the system’s keypad and all its functions and more remotely,” he adds.

The savings and efficiencies for commercial systems with multiple phone lines and/or their own existing network is where this technology shines. For example, being able to increase the speed of signaling (even though more signals are actually being serviced) and channeling through an Internet Protocol (IP) address reduces the need for additional telephone lines, while data monitoring capacity increases dramatically. Other customer benefits include: faster service for programming changes, such as pass codes, and the ability to retrieve system history directly from the control panel. The advantage to the monitoring company is a higher capacity of signals at a lower relative cost versus adding phone lines and receivers when telephone traffic for supervision and test signals exceeds a certain level.

“It’s all very secure,” Bonifas says. “The Internet is more reliable than the world gives it credit. It’s still a bit expensive, but increased volume will certainly drive costs down,” he adds.

These types of data networks provide the same leap today in communications – such as better accuracy, higher speed and lower price – that the switch to digital communicators over McCulloh loop systems provided in the late ‘70s, says Drew Chernoy, founder of Channel Smarts, Del Rey Oaks, Calif. “With Internet monitoring, central stations benefit by being able to share more data with the monitored site (frequent system checks, better video images, faster reprogramming or control) more quickly and less expensively than with the existing dial up or leased line alternatives. While the cost savings are not significant for residential applications (most alarm systems share the existing home telephone), businesses with separate lines for the fire and security systems can see significant savings especially if they have several buildings monitored,” he says.

Nuts & Bolts

In addition to normal panel programming, Chernoy says that Internet monitoring set-up includes the definition of the IP address for the monitored site, the IP address for the central station, any gateways that the messages must pass through, and some additional settings for password or encryption that is enabled. Chernoy is the co-inventor of a patent on connecting the dialer output to interface with IP communications for Internet or data network monitoring.

For older panels, “one company has a patent on connecting an interface to the digital output of almost any alarm company’s panel and converts the dialer information into IP signals. The others depend on the slave connection to the alarm outputs from the older panel. All offer interfaces that connect newer panels via a data link, which typically provides full two-way communication with the control panel for alarm signaling and programming control,” Chernoy says.

In every case, he adds, the Internet monitoring function at the central station is done by adding a module or interface to the manufacturers’ digital alarm receiver. The signals are then routed through the automation system and processed in a similar manner by the central station operator. The signal comes in as would any other to the receiver.

Internet monitoring has become an important part of how Scarsdale Security Systems Inc., Scarsdale, N.Y., distinguishes the company as a leader in providing state-of-the-art central station services and signaling technology, says David Raizen, president. The company has been providing network-based monitoring for some time, so the addition of the Internet as part of the transition was not difficult for his central station team, he says. Raizen cautions, however, that it takes an extremely IT-savvy company to pursue the Internet and network monitoring and successfully incorporate and maintain it at the central station and the customers’ premises.

In addition, Raizen says, “the cost of adding the interface to our different models of receivers was not small, but it was an important investment to make so that we could offer a full set of services to our clients. It has not affected our staff level significantly in either direction.”

Scarsdale Security has a handful of customers on the Internet for monitoring, but most commercial customers are on an exclusive Scarsdale offering that Raizen refers to as a “private type Internet or frame relay network.”

“It has no other traffic on it other than the user and offers even higher levels of uploading and downloading and line security, along with faster service.

“More important than the cost savings of Internet monitoring to our customers is the ability of our clients to view their account history and request service via the Internet (a feature of our automation system and not really connected to the Internet monitoring capability). The addition of Internet monitoring has saved costs for the clients more significantly than for the central station, but that always helps to earn or retain more business,” Raizen says.

An Internet monitoring provider since 2001, Atlas Security in Springfield, Mo., provided some initial beta testing for the technology. Jim Wade, president, counts on the technology to provide enhanced line security for his customers’ networks. “This is where we’re headed,” says Wade, whose company has more than 40 years in security. “From a technological perspective, there are no disadvantages. If there are any disadvantages, it’s in the equipment cost, or the fact that some users don’t have broadband or a high-speed data network.”

“The most important advice is to stick with a UL-listed system and follow the guidelines as closely as possible for a UL certificated system, even if a certificate is not going to be issued,” Chernoy says.

Side bar
How Internet Monitoring Works

The control panel contains an IP network address, routing

and encryption information for the central station that should receive messages (just like a phone number). Instead of making a phone call, the panel sends the message over the Internet (or private Intranet) to the receiver, where it is authenticated and acknowledged back. The central station receiver handles encryption and signal supervision.

Newer control panels let dealers remotely program and access panel features from the central station using the data network

connection. Older systems use an interface to connect to the alarm/supervisory outputs of an existing security or fire alarm system and send summary IP messages in place of a DACT or digital alarm communicator transmitter (UL definition). One interface lets dealers replace the phone line of almost any installed digital dialer and translate its existing messages into IP messages and send them over the Internet, replacing the existing dedicated phone lines.– Contributed by Drew Chernoy, a 25-year veteran of the security industry and a business development specialist who helps companies in the security industry form and grow new revenue streams.