The VoIP Challenge for Alarm Systems Dealers

A look at what dealers, monitoring companies and manufacturers are doing to face the issue of VoIP and alarm system incompatibility

As an alarm dealer and central station monitoring provider, you've got lots to think about already. As if customer retention, finding new prospects, maintaining your RMRs, assessing the new product lines and staying up-to-date on what your competitors are doing to steal your edge isn't enough, there's another issue you'll soon be facing if you haven't already.

Sound the trumpets and raise the drawbridge. The new consumer technology that's here in some metropolitan locations and on the horizon in smaller towns is a thing called VoIP, which stands for voice over Internet protocol. Don't mind the alphabet soup; it's a technical way of saying that your customers can disconnect their phone lines and talk directly using the Internet.

Before you wave this off as just another technology to live with, you should know that it means a lot to your job as an alarm systems dealer. The thing that industry insiders, like Honeywell Security and Custom Electronics's Vice President of Marketing Gordon Hope, will tell you is that VoIP will change how you do business.

In the world of VoIP, you have some solutions providers, such as Vonage, that simply sell customers the hardware that they need to connect to their existing computer and high-speed connection to create a phone system that uses Internet bandwidth. This is called a non-facilities based solution. Then you have the big players - companies like AT&T, Cablevision, Time Warner Calbe and Verizon - that use a facilities-based solution, meaning that the technology isn't in the box you have, but is in their telecom facilities and that they provide you with the high-speed connection too. These are the companies that are doing heavy marketing of VoIP, and it's selling.

Consider the following: A recent offer from Verizon's VoIP division (the service is called Voicewing), promotes VoIP calling for just $29.95 a month when you add that to existing Verizon DSL service, or $34.95 a month by itself. It's a deal that many customers are biting on. With included features like unlimited local and long distance calling, voicemail with email notification, caller ID, three-way calling, a phone/address book that integrates into your PC software, $.05/a minute or less to places like Australia, Aruba, Italy, Canada and Israel, it's not hard to understand why the American public is starting to make the switch from POTS (plain old telephone service) to VoIP.

So what's that have to do with the security industry? Lots, unfortunately.

Here's the kicker to all the good deals, straight from the Verizon website:

"Verizon VoiceWing Service does not support traditional 911 or E911 access to emergency services. The limited emergency response service ("Limited Emergency Response Service") differs in a number of important ways from traditional emergency response services. You must maintain an alternate means of requesting emergency services. An accurate Service Address is required to route your calls to the closest emergency call center in the event that you dial 9-1-1. Verizon VoiceWing Service will not work if power is out. VoiceWing will not support home security systems and cannot be used with satellite television services. Network congestion or use of data services at the same time as VoiceWing might affect sound quality."

The small text, found here by doing a detailed search of the fine print and FAQs, states unequivocably if you plan to use an alarm system with a VoIP system, turn around and walk away - it won't work. And you'll find similar language from the other major providers.

"Customers are oblivious to this fact," says Alan Glasser, president of the Metropolitan Burglar and Fire Alarm Association in New York.

"I called up the PR office of CableVision," explains Glasser, "and was speaking to a woman there and she had an alarm system, which she had never tested. She had VoIP and had no idea that her own company didn't support alarm systems."

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