This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of SD&I magazine
Wireless is the technology of the future. Both integrators and manufacturers are moving security into the wireless world. According to industry experts, some 70 percent of new access control systems will feature wireless. We spoke to several knowledgeable security professionals about what dealers and integrators should know and expect from this fast-growing field.
Q. What new wireless products are your customers most interested in seeing?
Rosa LaDelfa, senior vice president, Casco Security Systems, Rochester, N.Y.: As we move into the age of wireless technology our customers seem to be interested in cellular back-up (AES Radio, GSM, etc.) with the capability to do Total Connect (Honeywell). Total Connect is the ability to arm, disarm and view your systems from the iPad, iPhone, and similar devices. Wireless panics or personal emergency response is big. However, we are not seeing us much demand for is wireless intrusion and/or fire.
J. Matthew Ladd, president, The Production Bureau, Exton, Pa., and marketing chairman for Security-Net Inc.: Customers are seeing and liking interactive touch keypads that give them the ability to remotely turn the system on and off, access weather updates and control HVAC and lighting. Customers also want the ability to remotely view and interact with their security system through their smartphone. This is one of the biggest developments in the intrusion market in recent years.
Leon Langlais, director of Product Management, Tyco Security Products, Brossard, Can.: The biggest trend we see in demand for wireless products is coming from the lifestyle sensors, which control energy management, lighting, and other home automation functions. These sensors not only satisfy the “cool factor” for end users but also offer dealers an opportunity to add additional recurring monthly revenue (RMR) to their business by selling the additional monitoring and service opportunities. Of course, having the most up to date cellular communicators, key fobs, smoke and heat sensors—the core offerings of the wireless life safety portfolio—also remains extremely important.
Q. Does wireless address specific concerns about security? What do customers ask and how are you addressing these concerns?
A. LaDelfa: Concerns around security have not been an issue. On the occasions we have used wireless, the customer has been educated and set up parameters on their systems.
Ladd: If a customer has never had a wireless intrusion system before, it’s not uncommon for the customer to question the battery life of the devices that are part of the system. Manufacturers have made significant improvements in security devices such as door sensors where the battery life is now 10 years. This is now not as much of a concern today as it used to be. Another concern posed by customers relates to systems where the keypad and the alarm panel are part of one single device and people worry about it being ripped off the wall. To solve this problem, one manufacturer has introduced a technology that still enables the system to send a signal to the central station even if the system has been ripped off the wall or disabled.
Langlais: Wireless products have improved significantly over the past decade, to the point where consumers trust that residential wireless intrusion is on par with hardwired systems. In the commercial sector, though, these concerns have been a bit slower to overcome. However, some of today’s wireless systems feature sophisticated 128-bit AES encryption to prevent the wireless signal from being “sniffed” or hacked, so the signal cannot be overtaken through the air. Improved protection against signal interference, along with increased range, is also helping to pave adoption in commercial applications. The more robust systems offer noise immunity from interference from other appliances or systems while improved range means increased distances between panel and sensor without the use of repeaters.
The other facet to security is the reliability of the system, which is another area where modern wireless systems have made huge strides. When you install a sensor in a home, it’s crucial to select a very robust wireless system that has a high level of resistance to interference or noise.
Q. What are your thoughts on ZigBee? Is it secure enough for your customers?
A. LaDelfa: Zigbee or Z-Wave are as secure as any other wireless system out there. Many times it is the internal firewalls that are put in place by the customer.
Ladd: ZigBee has allowed for the integration of a lot more home automation types of products. For example, you can replace your door locks with ZigBee locks and then you can remotely unlock them. This technology has been a great addition as it has allowed manufacturers to add more features to their product offering without it being too expensive for the average consumer.
Q. How has wireless for security intrusion changed and progressed over the years? Is it easier to sell?
A. LaDelfa: Wireless intrusion has changed over the years in that the technology is far more advanced. Wireless is a good alternative for the customer but it is a double-edged sword when it comes to being secured. At what level does it operate? Consider the differences between 300 versus 900MHz, for example. Also, the application involved will determine whether or not wireless is a good solution. Older homes are a good place for wireless since you don't have to do cable pulls. In the past, the cost to run wires in older homes was not cost effective where today wireless has provided an alternative solution.
Ladd: Wireless used to be limited because it wasn’t supervised and battery life wasn’t long. Today, wireless has become more of the standard than the exception. The majority of residential alarm systems installed today are wireless. Because of wireless, panels have evolved too, so that integrators can now sell more features like remote video viewing and home automation. These benefits, plus a quicker installation time, make it easier to sell.”
Langlais: Homeowners today have come to trust wireless and they know it's going to work, whereas 15 to 20 years ago it was not really on peoples’ radar. Along increased range capabilities of today’s wireless systems, battery life, which can now range from five to eight years, is another very attractive advancement.
Q. What type of wireless signaling seems to be most prevalent and sought after?
A. LaDelfa: The most prevalent wireless signaling is cellular, especially 3G and 4G.
Ladd: Wi-Fi and cellular are the top two wireless signaling methods. We sell more of the cellular. People are not installing landlines in their homes anymore. They are using their cell phones as their main number; then they may run into the issue of supervising the alarm panel. We encourage a cellular wireless signal because it’s coming right out at the panel.”
Langlais: Of all the technologies, wireless panels should have 3G functionality. Wi-Fi is becoming more adopted in the home but at this stage, that technology is more appropriate for high bandwidth applications, such as wireless IP cameras for live streaming video. However, the higher the through-put, the higher the energy usage. Typically, Wi-Fi systems will not be battery powered because power consumption is too high. If batteries are used, it will be as backup in case of power failure.
Q. What can we expect to see coming in wireless technology?
A. LaDelfa: Our big concern for wireless technologies in both the near and distant future is in the supervision of the devices. Supervision will increase and the short and long range of these devices will continue to improve as technology evolves.
Ladd: You are going to see keypads continue to get smarter and smarter and utilize wireless as the means to the home automation piece. You will also see video continue to grow and ZigBee will continue to offer more capabilities.”
Langlais: The connected home will play a huge part in wireless technologies, and we’re seeing the effects of that already. Devices like lighting control, thermostats and even refrigerators and dishwashers will someday be connected to a single management system. Today, elements such as home healthcare functions, door locks, Wi-Fi camera systems and security systems are already integrated and that trend will only continue. These integrations are fostering partnerships between different wireless vendors and development of open standards for the wireless space.
Q. What personnel and core skills and expertise do you need to offer wireless to customers?
A. LaDelfa: The core skills needed to offer wireless to our customers are very simple. We need an understanding and training of how the equipment works. Wireless is basically plug-and-play. But we also have to consider how it works, how we program it and how easy it is for both the customer and you to use. This all comes down to training.
Ladd: The technician of today is not the technician of yesterday. Their skill in doing installations has changed considerably over the past few years. To install a security system, they don’t have to be the same type of craftsman. When we were doing wired systems, we had to pull molding off windows to install the contact. It took talented technicians who understood construction and where to drill and how to fish wire. Today they barely have to carry any wire. They do need to have more knowledge of computers and networks, since many of the systems use the Internet for communication, software on computers and a smartphone to view and control them.
Langlais: Dealers need today’s technology to move away from complicated skill sets and require very minimal training for installation. For placement of wireless sensors, for example, some devices have an LED that blinks when the device is located in an appropriate location. This ensures optimal placement with minimal training. Enrolling devices into a wireless system should be quick and easy and means installers do not have to access the home router and change IP addresses or ports. The faster and more accurately a dealer can complete a residential wireless installation, the more systems that dealer can sell and the more RMR the business can generate.
When would you not use wireless?
A.LaDelfa: Always ask yourself: Why wireless over a conventional install? Then resolve any concerns, if any, about potential security issues with its deployment.
Ladd: In the higher security requirements, when you need that 100 percent guaranteed supervision, such as at a museum or a high-end home. In these environments, a wired system would be the best approach to take.