Communication infrastructures in America’s homes and businesses are quite different than they were 10 years ago. The proliferation of local and wide area data networks, cellular networks, and the Internet all are impacting the way people communicate. Alarm signal transmission has been affected by this technology alteration. In fact, just as alarm signal transmission via the digital communicator permanently changed the monitoring landscape in the 1970s, so are newer technologies about to dramatically change monitoring during this decade.

“One thing that is for sure – with rapid changes in technology, dealers have had to reeducate themselves,” says Sascha Kylau, product manager for central station receivers and IP communications for DSC Ltd., Concord, Ontario. “They are suddenly faced with new [technologies] and need to get trained.”

Says John Lombardi, president of CIA Security, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., “The industry is going through a transformation; everything is IP [Internet Protocol] based. The challenge now is to educate the industry about the intricacies of IP security.”

Of course, not everything is IP based at this time. While IP is in the early stages of deployment for the security industry, the king of monitoring is still digital communications.

“Each particular technology has a very distinct advantage. When you are trying to ensure that a system will not be defeated, it’s best to have a combination of technologies,” Lombardi says. A high-risk client might choose digital communications, Internet monitoring and radio as a backup, he notes.

Dave Combes, director of commercial sales for Honeywell Security and Custom Electronics, Syosset, N.Y., admits that every transmission technology has the potential to “go down.” “The most crucial part of the system is the communication path. Can the Internet be down? Sure. Can any electrical communication be down? Yes. Can cellular radio be down? Sure. That’s why I tell people it’s important to have two paths of communications…If one path of communication is down the other will be up,” Combes says.

With new technology comes the opportunity to educate, in part by dispelling misconceptions. SDM’s Field Guide to Monitoring presents facts and explains fictions to help security technicians and other professionals better understand what’s involved in this new world of monitoring.

Fact: Internet Transmission Is Fast

Phone-line transmission takes longer than other technologies, says Dave Combes, director of commercial sales for Honeywell Security and Custom Electronics, Syosset, N.Y. “By the time a telephone line is seized by a control panel, it takes at least 5 seconds to seize the phone line and transmit the signal. When the receiver answers the phone, it has to then send a signal to the control panel through the analog line to decide who it is, etc. The control panel sends the message and then the receiver reads the message and then goes back to the control panel and kisses off from the receiver,” Combes says. This takes an average of 30 seconds, according to Combes.

“If you were to talk to a fire marshal, and you asked, ‘Could 30 seconds make a difference in saving a life in a fire? What about 5, 10 or 15 seconds?’ They would answer ‘Of course,’” emphasizes Combes. “A high-speed situation, such as Internet, takes milliseconds, not 30 seconds. It is almost instantly on your desktop, allowing dispatching at a much faster response time for your customer,” Combes adds.

Fiction: Internet Monitoring Is Expensive

Internet based alarm transmission works, and it is surprisingly affordable. For one thing, you need only pay a static monthly fee for the Internet connection. With traditional alarm dialers, communicating over phone lines, your phone bill will fluctuate with the amount of activity from each panel. The IP transmitters are also coming down in price. Some units, for instance, range around $135.

A traditional alarm dialer may take between 30 and 90 seconds to communicate with the central station receiver, but IP panels communicate in a fraction of that time.

IP-based alarm panels also provide a greater level of redundancy; in many units, a backup phone line can be connected to the panel to ensure communication in the event of Internet failure. – Contributed by Bret Bass, interactive video monitoring (IVM) administrator, Criticom Int’l, based in its Irvine, Calif., location.

Fiction: Remote Video Is Standard Among Central Stations

In fact, it is difficult for a monitoring service to provide remote video surveillance because of the wide variety of equipment being sold and installed in the field. Central stations have to standardize to some extent; therefore, it’s much easier for a dealer-owned central station to offer it to their subscribers, because they can standardize a product and then sell, install, and monitor it.

“Your full-service companies that do their own installation and service are doing a fair amount of video verification and surveillance,” says Michael Zydor, sales and marketing rep for Affiliated Central Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y. “It’s much easier for them because they pick one and they go with it.”

Still, many monitoring services do offer remote video monitoring and, by nature of the security business, they tend to provide more than one brand or system. For more information about which monitoring companies are offering remote video, visit SDM’s 2005 Monitoring Guide at WWW.SDMMAG.COM.

Fact: Internet and Radio ‘Check in’ Frequently

With digital communications, the central station typically checks the connection between the receiver and the panel on a varying basis depending on what transmission technology the customer is using, explains Dave Combes, director of commercial sales for Honeywell Security and Custom Electronics, Syosset, N.Y. If something were to happen to the connection between tests, the transmission would be lost.

According to Combes, Internet and long-range radio signals are checked more often than digital communicators. Internet may be checked every 5 minutes, depending on the central station.

“Another reason for high-speed connectivity is integrity, integrity, integrity. If I install [an alarm] in a small business or home and someone cuts a phone line, when will the central station know? The answer is ‘I don’t know,’” Combes says. “A lot of alarm companies will make the control panel report back an average of once every 30 days; some make it every week. In order to know the connection and panel are working, they send an automatic test report,” he says, adding that commercial businesses with fire alarm systems send automatic test reports every 24 hours.

“If it sent a test report and then the phone lines went down, you could have a fire and it wouldn’t report it until tomorrow and you could be in danger. What’s the integrity? Once every 24 hours,” Combes adds.

Fact: Effective Cellular Transmission Depends on Signal Strength

The strength of cellular signal transmission works similar to a cell phone, according to Dave Combes, director of commercial sales for Honeywell Security and Custom Electronics, Syosset, N.Y. This form of transmission, just like all radio transmissions, is only as good as its signal. Installers need to be sure that the subscriber is able to receive and send transmissions.

“For cellular transmission to work, it has to be within reach of a tower. It sends digital packets of data back to a central monitoring facility. Cellular uses a data channel, which accesses a line immediately,” Combes says. “It has to be installed properly to be positioned to have good signal strength at all times.”

“Cellular can also be helpful for security needed in an area that has no access to radio, Internet or phone service. This wireless option can be easily installed,” Combes adds.

Fiction: Internet Monitoring is 100 Percent Reliable

Digital alarm signal transmission relies on phone lines that aren’t always operational; that’s why backup alarm signaling systems are so important to the reliability of a subscriber’s system. The same is true for Internet monitoring, because the Internet isn’t always operational.

“More and more people are asking for monitoring on the Internet, which is fine as long as they understand it’s not always up,” says Tom Hruby, executive vice president of Security Equipment, Omaha, Neb. “You don’t notice it because you’re not online 24/7. We’re trying a lot of things on our end, such as getting additional providers and switching over in case one goes down or is unavailable.”

Backup alarm communication systems are recommended by monitoring professionals.

“The problem with Internet is it can go down if power is lost or computers are not working. Internet should always be recommended with digital or cellular,” says Jim Osborne, president of American Response Center, Euclid, Ohio. “The Internet transmission has to come into our router [at the central station] and then the receiver. There is a little more there to break down than the phone line,” Osborne notes. One thing that is positive about Internet transmission technology, he adds, is that it checks in more often with the central station to ensure working communication.