Standing at the crossroads

Transmitting alarms in a new era of uncertainty


An alternate option

Cellular communicators are already being considered as an alternative to DACT phone lines with some major technology providers allowing this option as a backup when an IP network goes down. Cellular communication consists of two parts-GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and SMS (Short Message Service). When using GPRS, the cellular transmitter may one day have its own problems. GPRS is packet-based and provides a constant connection to the network. The frequency band dedicated to the GPRS service has plenty of bandwidth and isn't close to being maxed out. If cell service was a freeway, the GPRS signals would be the light truck traffic flowing in two lanes, both directions. The cellular phone service providers would like to use this additional bandwidth for their largest market, which is voice cell phone service. Keeping this GPRS band for a bunch of trucks doesn't make sense to them when they could fill it with thousands of motorcycles. As most of you know, it has already been announced that copper pair phone lines to homes and businesses will begin to disappear. First, new copper phone lines won't be installed and secondly, the service providers won't be supporting and maintaining existing lines. Additionally, when the sunset arrives for GPRS service (in about 10 years or so), it may be turned off, suddenly and completely- not phased out like the phone lines. You may be wondering if there is a sunset time for SMS. Since SMS is tied to the voice part of cellular communication service, any SMS sunset will likely be a long, long way off.

We have several choices for alternate DACT communications (I haven't even mentioned radio here), and each has reliability issues to work out. But just like what happened with POTS (plain old telephone service), improvements in data signal handling and IP service reliability will happen; it's just a matter of time. At a recent forum on this topic, a panel of service providers (both cellular and IP), alongside central station representatives and alarm company owners, the message the audience heard was this: the industry will drive the market. Since we have to move away from POTS lines one or more of these wireless technologies will take over. Which one of them gets the attention by the providers to work out these reliability issues, will ultimately be decided by those on the front lines trying to offer our customers reliable, affordable service. I believe in this case, the squeaky wheel WILL get the grease and it is our responsibility to speak up if and when we experience reliability issues and work with the service providers, on our customers' behalf, to make sure reliability continues to improve-hopefully, to the point where we can refer to one or all of these technologies as "plain ol'" one day.

Greg Kessinger SET CFPS is SD&I's longtime resident fire expert and regular contributor to the magazine. Reach him at greg@firealarm.org.