Intrusion alarm technology isn't slowing down yet

Alarm systems have been around for decades, so is this side of our industry still actually progressing? Is the technology getting better? Are installation times getting faster? Is the intrusion business staying current with home and business trends today? To answer some of these questions, called Bosch Security Systems Product Marketing Manager Tom Mechler.

Bosch, is of course, one of the top companies manufacturing and selling intrusion detection systems in the U.S., and IMS Research recently noted that the company has been growing its Americas market share in the intrusion business (in fact, IMS Research found only one other company was actually growing its Americas' intrusion business faster than Bosch). Mechler's job at Bosch encompasses some of the company's newest intrusion technology products, like the company's Professional Series detectors and the Conettix line that allows IP communications for alarm panels. Also under his purvey are products like the just-announced wireless platform for the company's G series alarm panels (which are used for commercial security applications). We talked with Mechler about the technologies changing his offerings and the industry as a whole. His interview appears below:

SIW: Tom, what is changing right now in the intrusion detection business?

Mechler: The technology really is getting better. Ten years ago we were in the false alarm race, trying to reduce false alarms. Now we’re past that and able to improve efficiency from an installation standpoint. Our new detectors can save installers up to 25 percent of their install time. That adds up. We want to reduce service time and installation time. These detectors “catch” better and have better false alarm immunity. Because of the design of our [Bosch Professional Series] detectors, we can save 5-10 minutes per detector (in installation time).

Where are you finding those time savings?

Some of it is the mechanics, things like the way the detector goes together. It can be things like putting the terminal strips in the mounting plate, and then designing it so everything snaps together. We eliminated annoying things like the tiny screws that often hold on the detectors’ mounting cover that you are always dropping. Installation time has also been improved for system set-up. The detectors don’t require a pulse count adjustment anymore; they automatically adjust for sensitivity based on the environment. We put a bubble level in our Professional Series detectors to make sure it is level. That may sound like a simple gimmick, but it can help ensure you are level, because even being off 1 or 2 degrees at 60 feet could put the sensor’s beam on the floor or over someone’s head where it won’t detect an intruder.

What about wireless?

We are seeing a greater shift toward wireless systems in the commercial business. We’re seeing more and more commercial jobs going to wireless. Wireless had typically been primarily in the residential market. Just recently we partnered with Inovonics to develop a commercial wireless product line.

The reason wireless is catching on is that the end user is trying to reduce installation costs and have consistent costs. If you're a national chain with stores around the U.S., going wireless could mean being able to consistently budget for installation costs [versus pulling cable, which could vary store by store depending on construction methods and materials].

From a technology standpoint, the technology really works very well. With a wireless system, there will be future service, because batteries will not last forever. You have to understand there will be service of that system. With wired systems, if the wire doesn’t get accidentally cut, you might never have to service the system other than standard walk-through checks to make sure it is still working. So the biggest con for a wireless system really is only that you will have future service to check and replace batteries.

Are the commercial alarm dealers on board this wireless trend?

Speaking for Bosch, we actually have a survey kit [for the installing companies] that allows you to test the application for the site before you install the wireless alarm system. It can tell you things like where you need repeaters. There is no question that commercial alarm dealers can deploy a good wireless security system today.

Besides wireless communications within an alarm system, the trend toward IP communication of signals from an alarm system seems to the dominant factor affecting our industry. How does that shape your business?

That has been the biggest thing to change our business in the last 10 years. Customers are doing away with their phones. IP is actually the most stable and most cost-effective way to get that signal to the central station. We’ve had several national large chains convert their alarm systems to IP communications and leave the existing equipment in place. The cost of those phone lines is driving this change. We make it simple because we have a module [Bosch’s C900V2] that allows you to convert virtually any alarm panel and send it over IP.

Let's look back to the detection technology itself. Obviously, intrusion detection technology has been around for a long time. Is the technology "played out" in terms of how far it can advance, or is there room for technology improvements that will allow us to catch intruders ever more efficiently?

I think detectors can get better. We’re able now to get very high-performing processors down to a cost where we can afford put it into a detector today. That processing power allows for advances in detector technologies.

Can you give us an example of what processing power in a detector means?

Dual technology detectors worked in the past with both the PIR and microwave detecting a signal, and if they both detected, then you could go into alarm. With dual technology in our Professional series, we not only ask if there is an alarm but what kind of alarm it is. The processor compares the size of the intruder, how fast they are moving. What you want to know is whether one thinks it is a mouse and one thinks it’s a person, or whether they both think it’s the same.