So what is the solution ? There are several
1- The first and most obvious one is to leave
a POTS line in service for the alarm system. This will also ensure that proper 911
service is available if you ever need it.
2- The second (not recommended solution) is to have your alarm company hook up your
existing alarm system to the VoIP line and test it thoroughly to the station.
This will involve a visit by your alarm company to make the necessary
connection modifications. DEPENDING UPON THE VOIP SUPPLIER, it may work,
but at best, will still be only as reliable as your internet connection,
your modem and the power supply to both. Most service providers VoIP will not
work - period !! There are simply too many compression techniques used by
VoIP suppliers on their internet services to reliably state their services will
work reliably AND continue to work!. If you must do this, as a minimum, insist your alarm company
set a daily test to the station, and insist they keep track of any "fail to
test" situations with the monitoring station (most companies get daily test
reports from their monitoring station which indicate when their panels fail to
check in). It is also mandatory that all this equipment be reliably backed up
with a separate UPS system that gives several hours of AC power backup. Also,
most important, do NOT sign more than a month to month contract for monitoring services since you often
cannot know if this service is going to work reliably over the longer term, and
you don't want to be stuck paying for something that doesn't work.
3- Rogers cable phone service falls somewhere in the middle.
Provided you use a backup power supply to keep the cable modem adequately
powered during an extended power outage, this should present no problem. Cable
reliability is basically equivalent to POTS service. However,
Rogers phone systems come with a minimal power backup system in the modem
which is entirely insufficient for security purposes. They too require a
separate UPS power supply. The telco on the other hand, provides power for the
phone line from their central office.
Remember, no IP connection or cable connection, or no AC power
to either, and your alarm is off line !!!
Another reliable option would be to hook up a
cellular communication device that transmits alarm signals via its own wireless
network. These amount to about the same investment at the front end for the
equipment, but also have an ongoing monthly charge for the service (see
Companies that insist that VoIP will always
work, and there is no risk in setting it up through their monitoring services,
are without doubt more interested in your money than your security. Be on guard
Below is a email forum posting written
recently by my son David Campbell that states the situation perfectly:
"I'm an alarm technician as well. A few of you might be stymied by the
horrendous confusion on this forum. Will it work? "No it won't" "Yes it
will." "I got mine working!" "I couldn't get mine working." The truth
is, most alarm companies are every bit as confused on this issue.
The fact is, VoIP lines are very numerous.. There are dozens of
companies doing it, and they all tend to have slightly different
technology in terms of how they work. Some of them outright say it will
never work with any alarm. Some of them tell you they can't officially
say it's supported, but then give instructions on how to try to do it.
Some will work with SIA format alarm modems, some with with Contact ID.
Some work sort of, as in they work today, won't work tomorrow.
My own experience with this is incredibly hit or miss. There is a good
reason why most of the big boys don't like to go with this technology.
It's terribly unreliable for alarm system monitoring! I know everyone
out there wants to go with this stuff because it's so cheap in
comparison to a POTS line. (Plain Old Telephone Service). Sadly, you get
what you pay for.
I've put alarms on VoIP lines when customers twist my arm. What ANY
decent alarm company will do, if they TOUCH VOIP AT ALL, is program
their alarm systems to do a DAILY TEST to the monitoring company. These
alarms can be programmed to check in with a monitoring station every
day, or every week or whatever as a heartbeat signal. This is to assure
long term assurance of monitoring. I get a report every morning whenever
this test signal is missed. It gets flagged on the receiver at the
monitoring company, and I then get to call those clients to say that
their VoIP line is acting up again. Be ware folks. Even when they say it
works, (which it often does), for whatever reason, it's often very flaky.
I live in Ottawa Ontario, where Nortel had their largest offices before
they went belly up. RIP. Many of the original VoIP technologies were
invented here back in the day. What one of the engineers who came up
with the concepts years ago once told me that they NEVER designed this
stuff with data traffic in mind. They figured that everyone already has
a data line, as they need one for VoIP to piggy back on it. The idea of
putting a dial up modem on a VoIP line, or a fax machine or any of that
wasn't anywhere in their planning.
For you tech types.. Imagine trying to encapsulate acoustic modem tones
over a UDP/IP connection? Many of these VoIP lines use UDP, not TCP. UDP
has no error correction because it's meant for streaming. Things like
video or voice use UDP, because you never notice a mistaken bit in a
video file, yet the lack of error correction means a huge overhead cost
is removed vis a vis TCP/IP. Bottom line on this is you're wrapping an
acoustic signal in an IP packet that has no error correction. I HAVE
seen the signals scrambled, even if they worked.. sending occasional
erroneous signals if their internet service is congested.
Telecom is extremely stupid. All these companies rushing to compete in
the VoIP market are cheapening the reliability of the technology, even
if they are adding to the feature base. All the old established telecom
companies are so foolish that they don't seem to realize that their day
is done, and their business models will fall down in the next couple
years if they don't lower their prices to compete! In the middle is
small guys like me, eternally frustrated due to the record number of
folks who move to VoIP, never having been told by their VoIP carrier
that their alarm will not work, (or not work well). Then I get a call
when their keypad starts beeping due to lack of telephone line.
My irritation and ranting aside, here are my solutions;
Cellular Backup / GSM. Wireless technology. As reliable (if not more)
than a POTS line. Extra monthly fees, which still work out to be cheaper
than holding on to a regular phone line. These units typically come with
their own power backups too. Seriously professional technology.
Internet monitoring is upon us. Most alarm companies I know of are just
starting to get into this. It's somewhat bleeding edge stuff, despite
how old IP really is. Expect bugs for early adoption. Every alarm will
end up with a different type of IP communicator. Some modern alarms can
be hooked up to IP transmitters that actually speak to the panel itself.
These are very cool. This means smartphone access, email / sms
notifications, and all sorts of neat extras. Some IP communicators are
meant as standalone solutions that will work with any alarm system
dialer, accepting those signals and properly encoding and encrypting
them, before sending them to your internet router, and on to an IP
receiver at the monitoring company. Although there is technically LESS
overhead on the monitoring company's side to using this technology,
there is a pain in the butt aspect for alarm companies. Don't be
surprised if some of them want to charge a little extra per month, as we
end up becoming network admins any time they factory default their
routers or start messing with their internet line. Some of these devices
require port forwarding, static IP addresses and all that. You also have
to recognize that you have more points of failure now. A phone line gets
power over the line itself, which works even when there's a power
outage. To maintain that with an alarm over IP, you want to have power
backup for your modem, and router. Don't do this at all if you find your
For those who insist on trying their alarm with VoIP systems and see
success: Insist on daily test signals from your alarm company. Perhaps
even do some real world tests during peak internet prime time periods.
Call them up, put your account on test, and send off some burglary
signals. Call them back afterwards. You ought to see burgs on particular
zones, restores when those zones close... perhaps cancel codes or
'openings' when you turn the system off. Depends on how the alarm is
programmed. Do them a favour and don't test them without warning. That
takes resources away from real alarms that might need to be dealt with.
Identical precautions are in order in regards to ensuring your modem and
router uptime as with IP communicators for alarms.
This is a buyer beware situation, folks. Consider what security is worth
to you. I know everyone's trying to save a buck these days, and I don't
blame them, but some can't live without professional alarm monitoring,
either. Just be cautious, and don't think for a minute that VoIP will
work as well as a POTS line. If it works at all, be on top of making
sure it keeps working!
Best of luck.
I offer apologies to any VoIP dealer who may take any offense from my
posting. I don't mean to suggest your services are crap. This isn't the
fault of VoIP, its the fault of an incredibly myopic and conservative
security and telecom industries for not solving this issue years ago.
Despite my reservations for using it in my line of work, on a personal
note, I have no home phone line at my own home, and use Magic Jack and
Net Talk Duo VoIP lines. Only thing I'd like to see from you that might
improve the situation, is some honesty in some sales people for VoIP
companies in that they ought to warn about this issue to prospective
Please note, we
will NOThook up an alarm system on VoIP, either existing or new.