Are Hybrids The Future Of Monitoring?

Aussie installers need to get used to the idea of IP-based alarm systems. It’s true there is a little bit of time to go in some areas, but as the NBN carves through the Australian comms-scape things are going to change fast.

IT has taken perhaps 15 years for wide area IP connectivity to become central to business operations but today loss of IP networks means business grinds to a halt. The centrality of digital communications, its ubiquitousness and the certain disconnection of old comms paths guarantees us an IP future.

There are multiple considerations here and it's quite possible that like the CCTV industry the alarms industry will see an extended period of hybridisation, with new installations being full digital and older ones jumping onto networks using some form of encoding. 

In either case IP alarm monitoring is not a choice, it's inevitable. Telcos want to see the back of analogue and the reason for this is lack of bandwidth. Digital comms which can be compressed and rebuilt and readily pumped about through 1GB Cat-6, fibre, or 3G and 4G wireless links, is more compact. This is an important consideration. 

We know that we pay for our IP connectivity on the basis of bandwidth. And the more bandwidth telcos can squeeze into their infrastructure, the greater their RMR. It's a simple and powerful business imperative. Regardless of any disadvantages, digital will win because it makes suppliers more money.

We often hear about the disadvantages of IP – the terror of lost links and the idea of all those black hatters out there, just gagging to chop their way into our domestic alarm systems. But there are plenty of advantages and perhaps the greatest of these are the most fundamental. 

Analogue signals are a direct connection, an oscillating waveform. Whether it's DTMF or some other option, you need a direct path between transmitter and receiver in real time. Ok, you can split analogue signals and rout them through different exchanges but it's complicated and more expensive. 

In comparison, IP signals are essentially digital packets of information. If you've been reading SE&N for a while you'll know these little data packets come replete with a header that allows them to find their way through circuitous networks. A bit like the DNA of a cell, these packets contain instructions on how to rebuild the message when it arrives at the monitoring centre – this gives packet switching a flexibility you never get with analogue. 

Combine this with modern self healing networks and you get a solution that ensures packets that get lost or encounter a blockage are almost always going to find their way to the receiver and when they do, the message will be able to be reconstructed perfectly. This makes digital signals very, very robust. 

But the biggest advantages – the ones we've been harping on about at SE&N for years now – are the fact that digital opens up communications in a way that allows security systems to be smarter, more powerful, and more intuitive than they ever have before. 

For a start digital comms are duplex and that means direct connection with the front door on a mobile device or workstation anywhere on earth via simple browser interface. And this 2-way communication need not just be voice, it can be video as well, or any sort of event reporting data or output instruction a manufacturer devises. It's silly to say there's no end to it, but there's a lot of scope for new stuff. 

There are other potential advantages, too. Some a little frightening, I grant you. Typical alarm systems and CCTV systems demand star configs of copper cable to get aboard control LANs. But in a full digital environment, a device might port to a switch, or it might access the network over WiFi. This latter is the big one in my opinion. WiFi based cameras and sensors are a sure thing at some layer of our market. 

For many installers the entire concept of IP is too much to bear. But once you're across the fundamentals of IP, installation is immeasurably simpler. Everything is uniform, everything is more predictable, every system and in some cases, every device can be interrogated as part of automated maintenance procedures. Firmware upgrades can be automatic or propagated across whole networks of devices. 

Furthermore, such a system needs to be managed and it’s unlikely IT departments are going to want responsibility for physical security in commercial environments, while in domestic environments, true IT capability is usually in short supply. 

The standardization of monitoring comms with IP industry standards draws a long bow in the short term. When you consider the plethora of proprietary standards that govern the functionality of security systems, the idea of bringing them all together in a single communications protocol is daunting. I think it will be a process that will take decades. Solid state security systems are profoundly reliable and as we all know, few organisations will pull functioning systems out just for the hell of it in these competitive times. 

What we are going see then is a process which includes the introduction of full IP security systems which will be installed moving forward. Behind these new systems will remain a vast installed base of legacy equipment that we are going to need to bring online using whichever method works best for our clients. 

This is easier than it appears and it's going to be a profitable process. There are a number of devices on the market that are dedicated to the process of bringing alarm systems online. In fact it's very fair to say this part of the market is maturing and will continue to mature over the next couple of years. 

If there's a challenge to bringing the installed base online, it's selecting an encoding solution that's able to handle a wide range of DTMF signals from multiple alarm manufacturers. As we know, most installers stay with the same alarm manufacturer for long periods of time but for companies that specialise in bringing systems online, a polyglot encoding solution will be needed. 

For installers, choosing the right product will include other considerations. The RMR model in video surveillance runs all the way to the top so you need to select carefully and be sure your needs and your client’s needs are best served by the technology and the manufacturer you select.

There's no doubt this hybrid period will bring plenty of opportunity and it depends on the sales capability of installers as to whether users to pull out existing systems and upgrade to 21st century digital technology or choose to drive hybrids. 

“Solid state security systems are profoundly reliable and as we all know, few organisations will pull functioning systems out just for the hell of it in these competitive times”


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