Feburary 2004 Issue Making Better Connections
What will the impact of VoIP have on the alarm industry and specifically on monitoring?
VoIP, or Voice-over-Internet Protocol, is a service by which voice or any analog data is encoded or ?packetized? for transport over an Internet connection, then decoded at the other end to restore the data into its analog form. For good fidelity, usually a broadband connection is desired.
This service needs to be scrutinized carefully and not be taken lightly. Its effect is just being felt but will become dramatic as its favor spreads.
For some years now, dealers have been espousing that normal telephone service, POTS or landline (as it is often called) is in its sunset phase. The day of IP phones is at hand and will take over telephone service as you know it today. Voice is just one of the many simultaneous services that will be available to the users. As a direct result, the security industry is heading for a communications crisis unless basic connection philosophy changes.
A main topic of discussion at an Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC) held in Washington, DC on December 2, 2003, another issue of VoIP is telephone number portability. As of November 25, 2003, the Federal Communications Commission is allowing consumers to ?port? a telephone number from one cell phone provider to another, shopping to obtain better rates, better service or both. This is certainly a good thing for the consumer. But as part of portability, consumers can ?port? a landline number to a cell phone or to a VoIP connection over a broadband Internet connection.
AT&T recently announced that it expects to have a service delivering VoIP available to consumers in the top 100 markets by the first quarter of 2004. AT&T already offers managed VoIP services to some businesses, and has been testing a consumer service in three states since October.
AT&T is the latest and largest telecommunications company to promote VoIP, joining companies such as Vonage, 8x8 and VoicePulse. Some ?Baby Bells? are also testing the service and are expected to announce their VoIP offerings soon.
Because users do not have to pay access charges to the various telephone companies that route the calls over their networks, VoIP is considerably less expensive than conventional telephone service. At least in the short term, VoIP is basically unregulated, free from other charges such as the surcharge for 911 service.
The AICC committee questioned what might happen if a digital alarm communicator transmitter (DACT) that is connected to a landline is ?ported? to a VoIP connection, without the knowledge of the installing alarm company.
Several events are certain to occur immediately. By the nature of current VoIP offerings, you would lose line seizure. You also lose the ability to monitor the line because the dc voltage that tells the DACT's line monitor that a telephone line is in place no longer exists.
What remains unknown is if the DACT signal will propagate through the VoIP connection to the central station receiver. Also in question is, what happens as a result of the packetization process and what effect do transmission delays have on the digital alarm communicator system (DACS) operation overall?
In querying one provider of VoIP telephone service about using its service with an alarm system, Vonage recommends keeping the landline in place. The Vonage box does not provide the dc voltage to keep a telephone line monitor ?happy,? according to the company. Also, while a dial tone is present, it is artificially created by the box, not by the central office and, therefore, is no indication that a connection actually exists.
The move to IP will lead directly to another tier of products from manufacturers. The DACT, as you know it, will either share printed circuit board space or be eclipsed by another type of product where signals are only sent digitally, directly by IP not using the medium of VoIP. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and NFPA, to their credit, are ahead of the curve and have accepted the concept of alarm signals using IP. NFPA 72 is codifying the use of IP in the 2002 edition of the National Fire Code.
Some manufacturers already are in production with high end or high security products for the IP market. These products need to be retooled and moved down to the lower end of the market such as residential and mini-commercial.
Yet another technology looming in the future is BPL or Broadband over Powerlines. This technology allows a power company to distribute broadband Internet service to its customers over the already existing power lines right into the home or office. It is accomplished by superimposing an encoded radio frequency signal on the power line. The signal is not meant to propagate over high-tension lines but over medium to low voltage lines: 12 kilovolts and less, down to 115 volts. Care is taken to bypass power transformers with appropriate devices. This will allow power companies to sell economical broadband Internet service, bundled with power.
The FCC is very enamored with BPL. One commissioner goes so far as calling it ?Broadband Nirvana.? Imagine not wiring a premises with CAT5 wire but having the internal power lines carry the signals! However, the radio community is concerned about the potential interference to radio reception. Tests to determine interference levels are being conducted at this time.
It is anticipated that the FCC will be issuing a Notice of Proposed Rule during the first quarter of 2004. The promise of this technology is to make broadband available especially to rural America. There will be more on this subject in the future, and the future definitely looks like an IP world.
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 Lou.Fiore@secdealer.com.