What’s the Best Alternative to Cellular for My Life Safety Systems?
Statcomm is committed to giving you the information you need to keep your property, tenants, and employees safe in the event of a life safety emergency such as a fire. In the previous article, we talked about the 3G sunset and its implications in terms of function for life safety systems. In this article, we’re going to evaluate the different alternatives to cellular communications strategies in terms of both their advantages and drawbacks.
We at Statcomm have our own recommendations, which we will get into later in this article, but we want to (i) present to you all of the available options first so that you can have a better understanding of the current state of technology today. Here are the possibilities and pros and cons of each system and how it affects your fire and life safety systems!
Pros: Landline or POTS, short for “Plain Old Telephone Service,” technology is commonly seen. Landlines are used for elevator emergency phones, lottery machines, central fire alarm monitoring systems, and even in voting machines!
Many security providers’ systems require a landline connection if the system is managed through the consumer’s broadband cable network. In the event of a blackout, power outage or other similar events where cell phone service would be affected, landlines often still function allowing people to stay in touch and summon help. At first look, this list of pros alone would make landline seem like the obvious choice. Please continue reading to find the cons of landline systems.
Cons: Unlike cellular service, which can reroute communications through another tower in case of a service outage, if your landline goes down due to inclement weather, accidents or natural disasters, you could be completely disconnected until the carrier can dispatch people technicians to fix it. It is important to know also that your phone service may be through one provider, while another company is responsible for maintaining the infrastructure. If the line fails, contacting your carrier directly may not be the most expeditious way toward a resolution.
In addition, POTS is more vulnerable to Denial of Service (DoS), attacks than cellular or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) would be. Last, but not least, AT&T and other major telecom providers are working to sunset the copper landline system in favor of a mass migration to VoIP. This means maintaining the lines is becoming (W) more expensive as fewer people use landlines for anything, potentially putting remaining customers on the hook to pay to maintain the infrastructure.
Bottom line: If you have landline service for your life safety systems, it will most likely get you through the 3G sunset—but your connection is probably living on borrowed time, and could be costing you more than it needs to.
IP Network Communicator
Pros: Modern iterations of this cellular alternative use the Internet to send packets of information from your system to a monitoring station, which will then summon emergency services. An IP network communicator can switch from one information route to another with no lapse in response which is appreciable to most human senses, so if one pathway is corrupted or goes down, another can be utilized nearly seamlessly. Many IP network communicators can utilize next-generation VoIP and fiber-optic connections as well as conventional POTS outlets, which means expensive retrofits are not typically necessary. The hardware is reasonably inexpensive and easy to install for a trained technician. The electrical power redundancies required by modern building codes help ensure continued function even in the event of primary power loss to the property. And in the event of a catastrophic failure or missed automatic check-in from the system, the monitoring station will still receive an alert.
Cons: No security technology is 100% bulletproof, and network alarm communicators are no exception. Because they work over the Internet, a malicious hack against your equipment or the monitoring station can compromise your system’s function due to a DoS, replay or man-in-the-middle, jamming or spoofing attack. While the high encryption level and hackers’ preference for softer or higher-profile targets make such an attack unlikely on a level akin to winning the lottery immediately after being struck by lightning and just before being bitten by a shark, the possibility must be taken into account.
Bottom line: A solid mix of economical, customizable, effective and secure, IP network alarm communicators are one of Statcomm’s recommended options as an alternative to cellular-based alarm communications.
AES Mesh Network
Pros: Much like the network alarm communicators above, the AES radio mesh network uses a subscriber network to communicate between your life safety control panel and the monitoring station. Because this is a private radio network which operates on specific, seldom-used radio frequencies, there is less risk of vulnerability arising from hacking. Packets of data are sent along the subscriber chain by locating the closest available point in the chain at any given time and moving it on to the next. The initial installation is reasonably inexpensive and simple, and the operating costs versus other cellular alternative systems are lower over time. Also, later-generation versions of the radio mesh network are hardened against unintentional interference from natural and manmade sources, reducing the likelihood of loss of services from these causes to near zero.
Cons: As with any other alarm monitoring protocol, the system is reasonably secure but not bulletproof. Radio-frequency attacks are far less common than other cyberattacks but are difficult to defend against if they do occur.
Bottom line: Statcomm strongly recommends the AES radio mesh network as a cellular alternative due to its robust mix of economy of use, security, connectivity, and stability. If you are considering a switch from cellular-based monitoring, this is your best starting point.
For more information about cellular alternatives or to request Statcomm to craft a monitoring plan which works with your budget and needs, please call us at (650) 988-9508 or email us at email@example.com.
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