Nothing lost in translation

Interpreting alarm codes for the central station is the primary function of the receiver. It has been an important function for decades but it is also one that many feel will one day become obsolete. As long as the central station performs the interpretation of alarm codes coming in from all forms of communication: digital, telephone lines, VoIP and other IP formats as well as radio and other types of signals, the receiver maintains its position as an indispensible tool.

"The basic role of the central station receiver really hasn't changed," said Randy Bourdon, receiver/technical specialist, Rapid Response Monitoring, Syracuse, N.Y. "The alarm receiver takes signals from alarm panels and outputs those signals to an automation system. What has changed is the transport mode of those alarm signals and what is contained in them."

Available now and rising in popularity is the role of software as the Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) lines begins to disappear and there's lessened reliance on hardware overall. While there are those who feel receiver technology for the traditional telephone line will one day no longer exist, others say that scenario won't happen quickly. The telephone line signal is still a critical and affordable option for businesses and its epitaph shouldn't be chiseled in stone just yet.

"While long term we see the phone lines going away, there is the challenge for small businesses which will need to use some form of phone service that is both reliable and affordable to run their security," stated Tom Mechler, product marketing manager, Bosch, Fairport, N.Y. It is also important to remember, Mechler said, "the current format for most central stations is the contact ID format traditionally associated with digital dialers. This has worked well for decades as there are an estimated 25 million monitored accounts in the U.S. using phone lines." It will take time for those accounts to completely switch over to another format, he added.

Also, change is needed to address some drawbacks associated with the traditional hardware-based receiver; it has limitations on the number of accounts that it can accommodate and the technology for it has remained pretty consistent over the last 20 years. Because receivers can be large and have a finite amount of accounts they can accept signals from, the newest software fix will reduce what many central station operators call "receiver farms," where there are racks of receivers taking up space communicating with different manufacturer's panels, proprietary or not.

With software in a hardware role such as the new virtual receiver marketed by Digital Monitoring Products (DMP), Springfield, Mo., the industry may see the beginning of eliminating the receiver farm and decreasing the amount of space allocated for its use. Because central station space is always at a premium, that's a plus.
Receiver farms are simply an answer to an existing problem, explained Demian Valle, IT manager at the National Monitoring Center, Aliso Viejo, Calif. "One requirement for central stations monitoring IP signals is purchasing the correct receivers. With traditional alarm signals sent over telephone lines, there are standard formats such as contact ID and Security Industry Association formats that many manufacturers use. In the IP monitoring world, a panel can generally only send signals to a receiver made by the same company."

Virtual receivers

Monitoring efficiency is critical and central stations are now being introduced to virtual receivers which instead of being a piece of dedicated hardware is a software application that can run on the server of choice. "The virtual receiver allows for panels to talk to a piece of software," explained Mark Hillenburg, product architect, DMP. DMP has had a virtual receiver product for several years. The SCS-VR, Hillenburg said, provides a reliable software receiver without hardware to central stations. The product received its UL listing for use in the central station, a designation that will also help elevate its popularity, he said. While this technology will work on a more unified platform, it is for networks and cellular communications only and will not work with dialers or POTS lines. "It offers advanced diagnostics and has the ability to monitor 100,000 accounts," Hillenburg said.

New challenges in signaling

Due to the various ways alarm codes are received, central stations have receivers to interpret all the timing and signals, but this is not without its problems. "With the rise of popularity in VoIP and digital phone line usage, this caused problems for receivers as the signal output gets manipulated and the alarm system receives a signal that cannot be read because the timing and pulses are off," said Bosch's Mechler. "This has been a big problem with VoIP and digital phone lines-the solution was the use of cellular or IP formats but this increased costs as equipment needed to be added at the central station to accommodate this change." Bosch, he added, created a processing adjustment in their D6100 and D6600 alarm receivers to compensate for the changes in timing.

Until one format of transmission takes hold the competitive edge lies in offering the ability to monitor all signals without error and increase efficiency. "Because each manufacturer requires a different IP receiver, we have invested a considerable amount of time and money in order to make sure we have all the IP receivers that our dealers need," said National Monitoring Center's Valle. "This gives us a competitive edge as well because we are able to receive signals from a wide array of IP panels."

As the method of alarm signal transmission continues to change with the times, software and virtual receivers will make inroads into the space formerly commanded by the public switched telephone network.