This article outlines weaknesses associated with Voice over IP (VoIP), or Digital Phone Service, and how it can affect security and fire alarm system communication. These services are provided by cable companies, telecommunications companies and, in some cases, independent providers that rely on the Internet connections that are already present in a home or business. Cable-based systems, using a cable provider’s existing cable network decoder, for instance, then connect your calls to the conventional telephone network at the cable head end. While the various VoIP technologies provide a form of telephone service, they vary widely in their range of features and reliability. VoIP service is much different than classic Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) telephone lines in that it routes all phone traffic through a digital converter, then over the internet. When compared with a POTS line, new concerns are introduced that could affect the stability and dependability of burglar or fire alarm system communication. A quote from a major Internet Service Provider regarding their VoIP service sums up one major problem; “VoIP services traverse the WAN (Wide Area Network, or Internet) and are subject to overall WAN bandwidth. If adequate WAN resources are not available, call quality degradation can result.” Since VoIP is a relatively new technology, the information provided here may help reduce the possibilities of communication failure by educating the end user and presenting possible solutions.
The primary concerns of whether an alarm can communicate reliably over any VoIP phone service, or not, come down to bandwidth, as stated above, and the codec used. Codec is short for code/decode, and it is the method used to convert audible analogue information (sound) into digital data for transmission, and back again at the receiving end. Different codecs may compress the digital data in varying amounts for efficienct use of the available bandwidth, then decompress it on the other end. This process is where an alarm signal may be altered, losing it’s ability to correctly communicate the desired message. Whereas a voice transmission may sound slightly garbled, or cuts out for a split second, the listener can usually still understand what is being said, but when just one digit of an alarm communication is missing, the receiver must reject the entire message as erroneous. So, it is possible to send traditional alarm signals over a VoIP service, but to do so reliably requires substantially more bandwidth than that needed simply for voice transmission. And, even if the alarm system is checked and operating properly after conversion to VoIP phone service, the provider may change the codec that they use at any time without warning, rendering the alarm system unable to communicate with the monitoring center.
Assuming that the alarm system is working properly with a VoIP service, there are still several areas of concern that many subscribers fail to address, jeopardizing reliable alarm communications. First, power–The VoIP modem can come as a stand-alone network device, or a combination broadband modem/router/and VoIP converter. Where regular phone lines are powered from the TelCo company, the cable equipment is not. If the power fails during a storm, blackout, or local electrical problem, the security system will be unable to communicate due to no internet or phone service. A backup battery solution must be in place so that the modem can operate under power failure situations. An Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) should be installed, and all network equipment connected to it. This includes any routers, modems, any facilities required to be on for the network to function, and the VoIP device itself. Then, all hardware should be checked for operation constantly, and, to minimize the chance of loss of alarm monitoring, should be replaced as soon as possible in the event of failure. All cables should be carefully protected when installed, checked and inspected to verify proper internet and digital phone service operation. And, programming the alarm for a daily communicator test to the monitoring center is imperative.
Although out of control of the digital phone customer, it should be noted that the dependability of internet-based phone service can be down for minutes, or hours, resulting in no alarm (or 911 phone) communication. A backup communication route should, therefore, always be explored. Since we at Jade Alarm Co. pride ourselves on our excellent service, and providing for our customers safety and security is our top priority, maintaining a secure line of communication between them and our monitoring center is paramount. That’s why we’ve installed , and maintain two backup radio networks (KP and AES), both of which are independent of any phone or cable company, as well as offering internet and cellular monitoring solutions. One of our security sales consultants should be able to recommend an alternative communications solution for most customers that will free them from conventional or VoIP phone service altogether, and maintain reliable alarm transmission.