NBN Will Change The Nature Of Alarm Monitoring
by Security Electronics and Networks | @Articles Monitoring | August 11, 2013, 7:00am AEST
ONE of the key changes the NBN will bring to monitored security solutions is third party components not necessarily designed to handle their newly assigned tasks. The issues are not insurmountable but they’ll need to be considered carefully.
A key issue is the insertion of hardware between an alarm system and its monitoring station. In the past, alarm panels communicated with receivers using Contact ID DTMF dial tones, after making a direct physical connection. With the NBN things will be different.
Alarm panels will be connected to NBN Co’s network termination device via one of a pair of ports – UNI-V or UNI-D. If it’s the UNI-V (Voice) that’s used, installers will need to ensure the NTD is optioned with an active UNI-V port, as well as a backup battery that meets or exceeds the ability of the alarm panel to keep paddling without mains power.
I think using the UNI-D (Data) port is the more interesting challenge still, given that instead of a direct 2-pair link between the alarm panel and the NTD, there will be a third-party router or switch astride the link. How this router is supported when power is lost is going to be something for retail service providers, installers and manufacturers to nut out between themselves.
It seems to me that we may see a number of RSP’s specialising in handling alarm systems, offering higher security comms options, as well as local support for specially selected routers or switches. If installers plan to deploy existing third party routers in the comms path then there will be fun and games.
Busy routers on shared data networks love nothing better than a life-affirming crash and an invigorating re-boot. Such behaviour is fine in a domestic environment but it’s going to be thorny for the electronic security industry. We’re not just going to have to try to design our way around these challenges but to include them in our disclaimers.
As a relevant aside, in a recent legal case in the US, monitoring company Monitronics was successfully sued for nearly $US9 million after a home invasion lead to a woman’s rape. In this case, the initial and subsequent intrusion alarm events were detected, and police were called but the keyholder could not be contacted until she returned home and tripped the alarm on entering the house.
A Monitronics operator again called and is alleged to have told the woman the problem appeared to be a technical difficulty with a sensor. After hanging up she was attacked by an intruder who had been in the home since the first intrusion event. The issue here is that duty of care extends to an operator’s interpretation of equipment performance.
There are substantial differences between multiple activations of sensors and link failures but this case revolved entirely around an operator’s interpretation of what system failure meant. The job of operators in monitoring stations is challenging enough without them trying to second-guess the performance vagaries of recalcitrant third-party network components like routers.
Perhaps the most positive thing about recent developments is the commitment to collaboration from NBN Co. and it’s something we’re going to need plenty of. But I think working with NBN Co. might be the easiest part of the process once we get up a mutual head of steam.
It will be RSPs that pose the greatest challenges to installers working in the field. Retail service provider numbers are growing at an exponential rate. At Coffs Harbour where the NBN is currently rolling out, there are about 30 RSPs spruiking for business – some of whom locals have never heard of before. It’s hard to imagine a future that does not include hundreds of unknown RSPs whose services we’ll be relying to support our IP-based alarm comms.
The issue here will be the challenge of finding an RSP whose level of service reaches the giddy heights provided by Grade A1 monitoring stations. I venture to say this will be impossible. The chances any RSP with an off-shore service component and a hands-off business model will perform with the dedication of one of our small-medium graded monitoring stations is absolute zero.
I’ve spoken with a few monitoring station owners recently and what has consistently struck me is the intensity of their duty of care. You folks will need to beat RSPs around the head with that duty of care. And you won’t need a sales team’s promises, you’ll need legally-binding service level agreements that meet your standards. The survival of your business might just depend on it.
Faced with these challenges, there are some installers heading to GSM and GPRS wireless links. I can understand why they are doing this – the technology is well proven and there are multiple quality suppliers to select from that understand alarm monitoring. But I generally think an IP primary in domestic and small commercial applications is appropriate when supported by wireless.
Something else to take into account is that the whole idea of the NBN is broadband – a galumphing comms path down which innovative technological navigators can steer the courses of the future. We won’t get all the capability, all the benefit of NBN if we don’t use it, nor will we resolve the challenges of the NBN if we don’t get stuck in and fix them – and sooner, not later.
For instance, we’re seeing more video verification and in the future we might see remote multi-camera guard tours in HD, too. But this fun stuff can’t be properly managed by say, GSM wireless links. I know that more than a few high tech security companies are hanging on for the NBN in support of new technologies and I think they’re right to crave it.
Another benefit of widespread use of the NBN might be to finally knock Contact-ID on the head. Sure, it works, but the 16 digits of DTMF code that comprise Contact-ID impose a great burden of suffering on monitoring stations looking to support multiple alarm panels from different manufacturers, all with different priorities and design configurations.
Consider that Ademco’s Contact-ID event code classification runs from 100 to 999 and covers everything from duress, to wrong code entry, from irregular access to swinger stay. Juggling 800 Contact-ID codes is a challenge that could arguably be resolved by a consistent IP standard. This said, it’s obvious from the surveillance market that ONVIF has its own moments of interpretative dance.
The most important development in all this talk is empirical evidence – a process that will allow security system manufacturers to bench test their solutions in an NBN simulation that mirrors the products of 45 or so retail service providers. Installers and monitoring stations will need to stay on top of this test process to ensure the systems they support are compatible with the future.