Ask the Security Alarm and Monitoring Expert

Open your Eyes
Between the alarm industry and VoIP providers, who do you think will blink first?

A: The status of VoIP is a recurring question. It appears many more end users have or would like to switch their telephone service over to VoIP. Consequently, alarm companies are very worried about the problems with continuity of the service that ensue.

There are currently three ways VoIP can be provided to a premise. They are:

  1. Cable companies, called “facilities based” providers.
  2. Companies providing VoIP over the Internet, called “non-facilities based” providers.
  3. Traditional telephone companies using “fiber to the premises” or FTTP technology.

With the latter, fiber will stop outside the home and the electronics and backup power will be placed inside the home. The resulting service is reported to not be distinguishable from current POTS service inside the home. The only significant difference is in the fact that with POTS, power is provided by the wire pair connecting the premises to the wire center. While many telephones no longer rely on this power (since they are plugged into local power), alarm systems monitor it to determine whether the telephone line is available.

It is also important to note that the regulated Telcos are required to give a full 64Kbits per second wide channel for POTS service. Some of the unregulated VoIP providers may use compression techniques that use less bandwidth and thus compromise the alarm data if not handled properly.

The security industry is looking for parity with POTS in four areas. These are:

  1. VoIP’s ability to transmit alarm communicator signals in an undistorted fashion.
  2. VoIP installations do not compromise Line Seizure.
  3. There is the ability to provide for alarm control panels to “see” a telephone line equivalent (voltage and dial tone).
  4. VoIP and cable hardware and the whole infrastructure should have sufficient backup power.

While it appears that the VoIP providers are doing their best to work with the alarm industry, there are obstacles that may not be easily overcome. The issue is that customers are converting their phone service over to VoIP from a choice of many providers and alarms are operating inconsistently, when reporting to the monitoring stations despite everyone’s best efforts.

The use of POTS in the alarm industry is some 30 years old. The culture of the VoIP providers is to provide low-cost, reliable telephone service. It does not yet have the same safeguards on its infrastructure as you have become accustomed to with POTS. Examples are universally available backup power and down time caused by equipment and software upgrades.

Useful features introduced by some VoIP providers do not go far enough to help the security industry. An example of this is the fact that monitoring of a premises circuit or back-up battery is available by some providers. But these alert signals stop at the VoIP provider’s office and no means is available to send these signals to the place where they are most needed, the central station.

Louis T. Fiore is a consultant from Sparta, NJ. He is Past President of CSAA (1997-1999) and President of L.T. Fiore, Inc. His practice includes the use of wireless and the Internet for alarm monitoring, as well as regulatory issues for security systems in general. He also serves as Chairman of Central Station Alarm Association’s (CSAA) Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC) and Standards Committee. He is the current chairman of the SIA’s Security Industry Standards Council (SISC) and a long-time member of the Supervising Station Committee of NFPA 72. Send your questions to