Opportunities in Alarms and Central Stations

As technology evolves, the demand for alarm systems and monitoring is growing.


Central station monitoring fostered the electronic security industry. Where once the market was limited to only high-risk premises and alarm systems were provided by a limited number of companies, rapid developments in electronics and telecommunications has made central station monitoring a...


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VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is a category of hardware and software that enables people to use the Internet as the transmission medium for telephone calls. Voice data is sent in packets rather than by traditional POTS circuits. One advantage of VoIP is that the telephone calls over the Internet do not incur a surcharge beyond what the user is paying for Internet access, much in the same way that the user doesn't pay for sending individual E-mails over the Internet. VoIP can also be used to carry voice traffic from a user to the PSTN.

So what's the problem? It happened almost overnight. The introduction of VoIP as a cheap alternative to traditional telephone long distance service has blossomed. Part of the appeal was coupled with the fact that the VoIP operated on the DSL service that became a "must have" for anyone living in an area it was available, and that was, and is, most concentrated population centers in our land.

Many alarm systems do not interface reliably with DSL/VoIP, and additionally, subscribers are switching over without advising their alarm dealers.

The AICC (Alarm Industry Communications Committee) formed to help represent the monitoring and alarm industry's interests in Washington DC reports that alarm companies have been encountering an increasing number of problems when their customers replace traditional wireline telephone service with VoIP service. Traditional alarm systems use telephone lines and central station monitoring to protect a wide range of property and people from fire, burglaries, attack and other emergencies.

There are approximately 26 million alarms systems monitored by central stations, of which about 20 million are in residences.

"Central station monitoring is a critical feature of these alarm systems. When an alarm is triggered, the security equipment in the premises sends a signal to the central station who then takes the appropriate action, typically contacting a public safety agency. Central station monitoring provide access to public safety providers even when the subscribers are unable to dial 911 themselves," according to the AICC.

Historically, the underlying communications network used in conjunction with central station alarm systems has been the public switched telephone network (PSTN), a backbone which has hardened over time and has redundancy and power backup systems to ensure continuous and reliable functioning. Central station alarm systems also contain redundancy and power backup systems to ensure continuous and reliable functioning. Even the alarm panel installed at the customer's premise has a 24-hour battery backup so that the alarm continues to operate even during a power outage.

New technologies, such as cable and VoIP, do not necessarily have the same level of redundancy and power backup as the PSTN.

Often cable providers do not have redundant computer capabilities and, as a result, when routine computer upgrades are required, the entire system is taken down for various periods of time. If a consumer is relying on such a company for its communications network and an emergency occurs while the company is performing routine maintenance, that consumer will not be able to call 911. If a consumer has a central station alarm system and there is a security event during the period of routine maintenance, the alarm signal will not be sent to the central station and, therefore, emergency services will not be dispatched.

All providers of broadband Internet access service also should be required to ensure that they do not interfere with other public safety mechanisms employed by subscribers, such as central station alarm services. The need for such a requirement is not theoretical.

As the industry sorts out the situation, rest assured that the switchover to GSM and VoIP is the now and the future of telecommunications.

So what should you do? First of all, none of the adversity just presented should trigger someone to abandon their off-site monitoring service, or frighten them out of entering the market. However, here are a few suggestions for those in the business or contemplating entering it.

Understand the technologies so that you can perform effective installations and provide reliable services.

UL Listing Explained

Selecting a central station on the basis of price is not a good idea, because several things can affect the level of service you'll get form your central station. One benchmark for a selecting a central station is if it is UL certified.

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