Ask the Security Alarm and Monitoring Expert

The Ramifications for Alarm Systems
What does “Sunset Clause for AMPS mean to the alarm industry? Should I worry about it?

A: I have been receiving many e-mails and even telephone calls regarding the Sunset Clause for AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone System). The Advanced Mobile Phone System is one of the earliest commercial cellular systems. AMPS technology is currently deployed throughout North America and AMPS-derivative systems are deployed in a majority of worldwide cellular markets.

The frequencies allocated to AMPS by the FCC range between 824 to 849 MHz in reverse channels (mobile to base) and 869 to 894 MHz in forward channels (base to mobile). AMPS has been superseded by various digital cellular services. While many cell phones will still work with AMPS, they also work on the more effective and efficient digital channels.

Analog frequency modulation (FM) with 8 kHz deviation is used in the traffic channels, which convey voice conversations. Binary frequency shift keying (FSK) at 10 kbps-a digital modulation technique-is used in the control channels used for signaling. These “control channels” have become popular as a means of sending alarm data from a protected premises to a central station.

The FCC has established February 18, 2008 as the date after which the cell phone carriers in the United States may opt not to continue support of AMPS service. The FCC order is referred to as the Sunset Clause for AMPS technology.

AMPS service will probably not cease on that day or immediately thereafter. But it makes good economic sense for the cellular carriers to migrate rapidly to the more efficient use of this spectrum unless there are other economic arguments not to migrate.

The ramification to alarm systems is profound. It is estimated that there are 750,000 back-up radios operating on the control channels. Virtually overnight, the possibility exists that they may cease to operate.

Services such as OnStar use the same control channel technology. GM has been hard at work to try to delay the Sunset Clause as long as possible by convincing at least one major carrier not to migrate. At this point, however, the date of February 18, 2008 still stands.

If the Sunset Clause remains a reality, remember that, on that date, a cellular company may opt not to continue AMPS service. They will probably begin to terminate service and convert these channels to digital in more populated areas, such as metropolitan areas, and leave less populated areas for later.

The hardware and service providers of control channel technology have announced plans to migrate to digital technologies such as GSM and CDMA. They are even producing units that will operate on AMPS and be able to change over to digital when required.

As an owner of an alarm company you should be aware of the Sunset Clause. Ask your supplier about it. Make sure that you are protected in your contract language with your customers and that your customers somehow share the burden or the changeover, should it happen.

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