We are all keenly aware that the proliferation of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is, perhaps, the most disruptive market development in our industry in years. Yet, our efforts at communicating basic information about VoIP to our customers has been lacking.

Those in the industry understand VoIP to be a fundamental shift in the landscape that carries major implications for security systems installation and communications. But for most of our customers, and potential customers, VoIP is just another phone service — one that’s half the price, to boot.

So long as the discussion about VoIP focuses only on the price of phone service, then the security industry has a problem. The challenge for us is to communicate more effectively with consumers about the reliability gap inherent in many VoIP providers.

Many of us are already seeing the fall-out of customers who switch to VoIP without being informed about the compatibility issues. Any home or business owner who has spent a significant amount of money installing what they believed was a state-of-the-art security system, won’t be happy to hear that if they switch to VoIP phone service, they’ll need to spend more money to modify their security system; otherwise it may not be able to send an alarm under all conditions.

When that happens, it can make the security company look “behind the times.” We must aggressively combat that notion, because, the truth is that today VoIP systems are not held to the rigorous standards of the security industry, and therefore, are not as reliable as they need to be.

People understand that the quality of their mobile phone signal is never quite as good as their hardwired phone. Well, we must tell them that the same can be said of many VoIP plans, when compared to traditional phone systems. In fact, some large VoIP providers say so in fine print warnings within their contracts! And while compromising on quality or connectivity for a phone call to save money may be OK, compromising people’s safety is something we, as an industry, can’t do.

Our industry is now supporting a variety of measures on Capitol Hill that would help inform consumers and ensure that all VoIP providers adhere to uniform standards. I urge you to support those efforts — they are good for our industry, but most importantly, they will help protect our customers.

People install monitored security systems because they want the peace of mind of knowing that their home or business is always protected. To do that, they need to be completely sure that their communications channel, whatever it may be, is 99.999 percent reliable. That’s our industry standard, and until VoIP providers can demonstrably and consistently match those standards, it is our obligation to inform customers of the reliability gap and offer them solutions to make sure their security is not compromised.

We can’t put this genie back in the bottle — VoIP is here to stay and will continue to grow – so we must proactively communicate with our customers about VoIP and offer reasonable solutions. Integrators need to provide new systems and service offerings which deal with the vagaries of VoIP, and manufacturers need to develop lower-cost components that can deal with any kind of phone system.

Someday we may see a fully IP-based security and communications infrastructure that is as reliable as copper, together with security system equipment built to “speak IP” with no additional cost. That will offer many advantages to consumers and security companies alike. But that day is years away. The transitional period now upon us, however, is fraught with challenges that must be addressed head-on if we’re to fully protect our customers.