Ask the Security Alarm and Monitoring Expert

Oct. 27, 2008
Alarm Reporting Methods

Cellular as Primary
I have a friend who just moved to a suburb of New York City and has elected to subscribe to his local cable company for his telephone service using VoIP. His alarm company could not guarantee reliable communications to the central station and suggested the use of cellular as the primary means of communication to the central station. Is this advisable?

A: This question cannot be answered without further investigation. I was put in direct contact with the end user and asked about the type of cellular backup technology the alarm company intended to use. The answer was that “it was digital.”

Unfortunately, all that purports to be digital may not be. After having the end user read the label on the equipment to me, it became quickly apparent that control channel technology was being installed. Certainly control channel can be thought of as digital in that it uses the digital control channel of the AMPS cellular network. But, as reported here in a previous article, this technology will be “sunseted” on February 20, 2008. There is no guarantee that this technology will be available after that date.

While I cannot give legal advice, I am told that three- or five-year contracts written around equipment that may not be available for the life of the contact may not be valid. It remains to be seen how quickly the cellular companies using AMPS will migrate to all digital. The best guess is that the migration will happen in larger metropolitan areas first. The possibility exists that sparsely populated areas may never see a change. The cellular companies are only told by the FCC that they do not have to maintain AMPS service beyond the “sunset” date, not that they must change.

Another issue here is using cellular as primary. This technology is protected by a patent that describes the use of cellular as the primary means of communicating to a central station. To my knowledge no challenge has ever been issued to date and may never be issued.

As this all unfolds and the cellular companies more aggressively deploy their GSM and CDMA technologies, the cellular companies will be in a much better position to provide wireless primary alarm service to both residential and commercial accounts. The continued growth of IP communications makes a perfect canvas to switch to wireless IP, especially with the VoIP issues threatening digital alarm communicator transmission.

Other non-cellular based technologies are available as primary. The landscape of wireless alarm communications is changing and it remains to be seen how it will settle. Many have had success with systems that are free of monthly service fees, but the greater number still rely on established networks.

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 [email protected].