Alarm Panel Communication Upgrades

Jan. 15, 2016
How dialer capture devices create an easy path to more RMR

Alarm communication technology is changing. Telecom companies are attempting to replace copper phone lines damaged by storms with newer technology. Wireless and Internet-based phone services are taking the place of traditional phone lines, and these changes have the potential to disrupt service at sites with intrusion and fire alarm control panels that are using older technology for alarm communications. Communication failures can frustrate users and cost dealers and integrators time and money when a truck roll is needed to resolve an issue.

While some view communication technology changes as a significant challenge, others see them as an opportunity. A tremendous amount of intrusion and fire alarm control panels installed throughout the U.S. are currently communicating over PSTN. With a simple upgrade, these panels can take advantage of more modern technology to send reports to the central station receiver via Ethernet and/or cellular connections.

Dialer capture devices convert a control panel’s PSTN digital dialer to an IP signal for transmission over Ethernet or cellular network. They simulate dial tone and line voltages when the digital dialer has a report to send, decode the dialer report and send the decoded report by IP or cellular connection to the central station receiver.

The changing telecommunications infrastructure has created the need, the potential cost-savings provides a significant benefit to the user, and the possibility for new RMR streams makes this move a win for the dealer or integrator.

Benefits to Upgrading

Upgrading panels to communicate over IP or cellular technology reduces communication failures caused by the aging PSTN infrastructure, lowers costs for the end-user, and enables higher security and faster data transmissions. For dealers and integrators, it offers the possibility to create new recurring monthly revenue (RMR) streams for their businesses. Here are four benefits for upgrading alarm communications to IP or cellular:

1. New RMR streams: By replacing dedicated phone lines with cellular communication, the dealer or integrator can create a new RMR stream for data service plans. Instead of paying the telecom company for up to two dedicated phone lines per panel, the end-user now pays the dealer for the data plans. The availability of dialer capture devices that work with nearly any manufacturer’s control panel enables dealers or integrators to easily upgrade a wide range of panels. Modern dialer capture devices are able to automatically detect a panel’s communication format for compatibility with a variety of legacy communication methods, such as Contact ID, SIA, Pulse 3/1, or Pulse 4/2.

2. Reduced costs for the customer: Eliminating the expenses associated with up to two dedicated telephone line connections per control panel results in a lower total cost of ownership for fire or intrusion alarm systems for the end-user. The monthly cost for a telephone line varies depending on the provider and the location of the user, but cellular data plans for control panel communications are consistently less expensive than POTS lines, providing a savings for the end-user. For a customer with multiple sites — such as a chain with hundreds of stores or restaurants in a region — this can add up to significant savings and a rapid return on investment for the system upgrade.

3. Higher security: PSTN dialers are tested to ensure proper system operation; however, the frequency can be less than adequate with several days between tests — creating an opportunity for sabotage. Systems that communicate over IP and cellular connections are supervised more frequently. If the connection is lost, the central monitoring station knows almost immediately. Additionally, the data transmitted is authenticated and can be encrypted to prevent intercept attacks. Because PSTN-based communications are not authenticated or encrypted, they can be disabled by recording and replaying signals or by substituting the alarm panel.

4. Faster data transmission: The use of IP and cellular with intrusion and fire systems provides higher-speed alarm communications to a central station monitoring the facility compared with traditional telephone dial up. When the intrusion or fire control panel needs to send alarm information to the central station, IP and cellular ensure the panel will not encounter a busy signal from the receiver at the central station. These communication methods result in more data getting through faster to the people monitoring the security and safety of a building.

Technology Considerations

When choosing a dialer capture device for upgrading control panels, there are certain capabilities that are important to review before choosing the best solution for your customers.

  • Compatibility: Ensure the dialer capture device supports multiple formats — such as CONTACT ID, SIA and Pulse — so that it works with a wide range of panels from varying manufacturers. In addition, consider how the device is powered and whether or not there is an option for independent battery backup. Having more than one way to power the device — DC power from the connected panel or AC power from a wire-in or plug-in transformer — provides greater flexibility. Also, if a device has the ability to self-power via AC and includes an option for battery backup, the dealer or integrator does not need to perform battery and power calculations.
  • Supervision: For enhanced safety and security, look for end-to-end supervision of the communications between the control panel and the central station receiver. Some devices will provide two acknowledgements — the first by the dialer capture device and the second by the central station receiver. This can cause confusion for the user who may think an alarm signal was received by the central station at the time of the first acknowledgement. If an error occurs, the device may continue to try to communicate with the receiver and eventually create a communication failure notification; however, in the meantime, the user may believe the message has already been received. Other dialer capture devices will acknowledge a signal only after it is received by the central station receiver. This end-to-end supervision loop eliminates confusion and provides the user with reassurance that the alarm communication has actually been received by the central monitoring station. It also ensures faster notification when a critical communication does not make it to the receiver.
  • Future-proof design: When evaluating dialer capture devices, consider whether they have been designed to keep pace with future changes. For example, does the device support IPv6? This will be essential when IPv4 addresses become exhausted. For devices that support both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses, automatic recognition of the format ensures easier installation. In addition, understand how cellular communication is supported. Cellular technology changes regularly. An interface for plug-in cellular modules will ensure the users’ investment is protected even as communication technology continues to evolve. Simply swapping out the plug-in cellular module will ensure support of the latest technology. Overall, the ability to easily perform upgrades in the field is an important consideration.

Now is the time to take advantage of this opportunity to reconnect with existing customers, upgrade their technology and renew monitoring contracts. Capitalize on the changes in alarm communication technology to achieve business growth.

Tom Mechler ([email protected]) is an Application Design Manager at Bosch Security Systems Inc. His knowledge of security systems stems from nearly 30 years of industry experience. Request more info about Bosch at

About the Author

Tom Mechler

Tom Mechler is the intrusion product marketing manager at Bosch Security Systems Inc. His extensive knowledge of security systems stems from more than 28 years of industry experience. He can be reached at [email protected]. Request more information about the company, or visit