Making the transition from POTS

Alarm industry prepares for the end of landline phone services

With the news that telecom giant AT&T has asked the federal government for permission to stop providing landline telephone services, also referred to as “plain-old-telephone-service” or POTS, dealers and central stations must begin to focus on alternative communication platforms to use for alarm signal transmission.

The transition may prove difficult for companies that have relied heavily upon using POTS as a primary means of alarm communication, according to Tom Mechler, product marketing manager for Bosch Security Systems’ intrusion business unit.

“I think initially it’s going to be a big challenge for the industry. The industry as we know it really has been built around recurring revenue and for the most part, the use of that POTS line to build that recurring revenue through the means of alarm traffic going to a central station over a basically free and very reliable telephone network,” he said. “We’ve already started to see the effects of that on the industry with the advent of voice-over-IP (VoIP) and with the advent of customers that are just choosing to go to different types of phone service. They’re not using a wired phone anymore, they’re only using wireless, so the industry is already starting to see a shift towards other means of communications.”

In its request to the Federal Communications Commission, AT&T said that less than 20 percent of Americans exclusively rely on landlines for phone service and that 25 percent of the nation has abandoned them altogether. In fact, according to the Cellular Telephone Industries Association, a little more than 20 percent of all U.S. households are now wirelessly-only homes.

Mechler said that in the future, alarm communications will rely primarily on one of three solutions including VoIP, IP and cellular signals, however, VoIP may not be as reliable as cellular or other IP technologies.

“If the customer has a wired phone line, but it’s voice-over-IP, as long as it’s a facilities-based voice-over-IP service and it meets all the old requirements of the POTS lines then they may not see degradation in service,” he said. “But what we’re seeing is the opposite, that there is an effect of voice-over-IP on the alarm communication which causes the system to become unreliable.”

Despite the fact that it has proven to be reliable, Mechler says using cellular-based forms of alarm communications could prove costly and that end users will have to determine if it’s a price they can afford to pay. Mechler added that using a wired IP connection would basically be free for alarm traffic, but could present complexities to installers in the form of having to overcome various firewall issues.

“It really is a challenge for the alarm installer to make sure that their skills are up on these new technologies so that they can transition their customers in the best way and pick the right technology based on user needs,” he said. “And, it’s a challenge for the end user because his cost may be going up and he needs to be ready for that.”

One of the companies that saw the writing on the wall with POTS several years back is South Carolina-based dealer Blue Ridge Security Systems, a subsidiary of Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative. According to Dave Whittington, manager enterprise group for Blue Ridge Security Systems, one of the company’s goals has been to completely move off of POTS lines.

“We’ve seen this coming for quite sometime,” he said. “For us, to hear (about AT&T’s request), we’re probably not you’re average respondent in that, that’s fine because now at least the truth is truly going to be borne out.”

Whittington said that Blue Ridge already offers several alternatives to systems that use POTS including its BlueLink 24 solution, which use AES-Intellinet’s wireless mesh technology to create a wireless digital communication network for customer’s alarm transmission equipment. The company also offers security equipment from DMP and Videofied that uses cellular technology.

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