Honeywell Security’s CTO on the growth of wireless alarm systems

Ken Addy shares thoughts on faster install times, better battery life, and technology issues

Earlier this week, Honeywell announced that it had produced its 50 millionth wireless transmitter, and many of those have been for security applications in the company’s “5800 series” of security devices. caught up with Honeywell Security’s Chief Technology Officer Ken Addy to talk about wireless technology for security and life safety systems. The overall concept of wireless security systems is that installing companies would no longer need to run a wire from a door sensor back to the panel. The installer would simply install the sensor (and there are now a wide array of wireless sensors from companies like Honeywell and others in this space) and the receiving panel, run a recognition process so that the panel learns that the sensor is part of its associated devices, and presto, they have a panel which can now monitor and receive signals from the sensor.

What we found when speaking to Ken is that Honeywell’s production of wireless transmitters matchers overall wireless growth in the security industry. According to Addy, he’s seen a gradual uptick in wireless security system applications over the last decade. That uptick has especially ramped up in recent years, and Addy says roughly half of today’s home security systems use some element of wireless technology – whether that’s a wireless sensor, a remote keypad, or a wireless arm/disarm keyfob.

Most of the wireless growth has been in residential security systems, said Addy, who notes that the ability to quickly install a system – with a limited amount of wiring – means the installing company’s job is faster and less intrusive to the homeowner. That, in turn, he said, means the job ties up the installing company for less time, allowing them to handle more projects, and create even more RMR streams.

“In the past, installing companies would talk about number of days per installation,” said Addy. “They now talk about the number of installations per day.”

The wireless technology is less prominent in security systems for commercial installations – some of that has to do with more conservative buyers who are slower to adopt new technologies like wireless. Sometimes also the commercial environment, which often involves larger spaces than the typical American home, puts limitations on wireless technologies in terms of range -- i.e., a sensor at a far-end of a commercial property might not have the wireless range to reach the receiving device. But with improvements in range and more increased user comfort with wireless technologies, Addy said he expects to see growth for wireless systems in commercial security applications.

Underlying technology driving growth

There have been vast improvements in the technological underpinnings of wireless technologies. According to Addy, they’ve watched battery technologies improve significantly. Honeywell, said Addy, typically uses Lithium-type batteries, a technology area which has been pushed along by the strong use of batteries in the consumer electronics world in devices like iPod music players and cellular phones. Today, the company is finding that heavier-use devices like PIR motion sensors and smoke detectors can get five years of use before a battery needs to be switched – though that timeline depends on the individual device and the amount of usage. Simple “switch” type sensors like door contacts last as long as the shelf-life of the battery – a time frame that could be 10 years in some cases.

“Battery technology is continuing to develop, and as a manufacturer we are always looking for the smallest, longest life battery,” said Addy. “It's really surprising how much activity there is in battery development. Now with lithium chemistries for batteries, they have become very efficient, and every year the battery manufacturers we use show us new efficiencies they have created.”

Matching the advances in battery technology has been the improvement of micro-controllers and circuit designs that are incredibly efficient.

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