Take the Express Train with Retrofit IP Audio

Sept. 7, 2011
Legacy integrates easily in retrofit for centralized communications

The "network anywhere" ambition of today's business world means that virtually every company is working over an IP backbone. A true IP-based system is unlimited in its reach, genuinely capable of going to the moon and back. Its infrastructure is manageable from a centralized systems approach, without the headaches of supervising multiple disparate pieces.

Based on these core attributes, it's no wonder IP has taken off in the security space. The migration from legacy to IP video security systems is seen everywhere, as cameras and recording devices are increasingly assimilated into the network.

The role of audio is gradually coming into better focus. Remote monitoring centers, for example, are integrating one-way and bidirectional audio into surveillance streams. This delivers alarm, intercom and other opportunities alongside the visual surveillance aspect.

IP also offers a better way to deploy paging and public address systems. The move to IP begins the process of reducing wiring and infrastructure associated with legacy audio systems, while introducing efficiencies related to greener power use (including Power over Ethernet, or PoE) and system redundancy. It also provides the advantages of centralized management and unlimited network reach that are difficult to achieve with CobraNet and other systems that are oriented to the live sound arena.

Increased convergence

Security integrators are often faced with the challenge of integrating a facility's existing legacy components into a new IP system. Many Barix customers begin with parts of a paging system in place, from isolated legacy components in different buildings, to a single-facility IP system ripe for expansion to more zones.

Swiss Federal Railways and the New Jersey Transit are two examples. Both had existing digital, network-based systems in their larger "hub" stations, but the more remote stations were connected using leased lines, analog wires and phone technology, with questionable reliability and audio quality.

Barix IP audio devices and off-the-shelf network components were later added, enabling operators to easily connect large numbers of smaller, remote stations to the central infrastructure at low cost. This provided both a means of transmitting announcements to the stations and real-time monitoring of equipment health and message delivery.

Such expandability is impossible with straight legacy systems, where operators are limited to four or eight zones. IP allows any device to be a zone, and centralize management of every device in the network. This greatly reduces the total cost of ownership, especially considering that the same network infrastructure is being used for other purposes in everyday business. The shared network infrastructure simplifies the process of adding other audio and data services such as background music and priority messaging. The openness of the IP network allows for easy switching between higher-quality audio codecs, such as PCM and standard VoIP codecs.

IP adds value as an open system

The days of being forced into closed, proprietary systems gradually disappear with the transition to IP. There is more freedom in designing systems with open standards, which ultimately allows integrators and end users to build custom systems aligned with the end user's vision.

The SIP protocol offers another interesting value-add for IP paging and public address systems. Integrators and end users can take two roads to SIP deployment.

Straightforward SIP is a simple process that transforms speakers into specialized telephones via a SIP extension on the PBX system. This is ideal for offices, where desk phones can be used to initiate pages to other office phones and potentially some speakers located in hallways and common areas. Everything in this scenario is SIP-centric.

The other method expands beyond the PBX system to central paging consoles. This is essentially a true paging system that can support pre-page chimes, grouping, zone selection and connectivity to other master paging stations-especially useful, for example, in "lockdown" situations on university campuses and other multi-building properties where flexibility in addressing specific end points is required.

In this scenario, master paging stations or workstations act as paging sources, independent of any central system. A PBX phone system can still be integrated as a paging source via the SIP protocol. A master paging station essentially supports better audio quality and voice intelligibility than a traditional PBX phone system-potentially making a difference in emergency situations.

Value adds like background music, SIP communication, priority paging, PoE and reduced infrastructure, such as integrating the traditional standalone amplifier into the decoder or speaker at the end point, are all possibilities when moving your paging and public address operation to the IP environment.

Johannes Rietschel is the chief executive officer and founder of Barix, www.barix.com.