Alarm Monitoring: All out, All Change

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Superfast wireless links are coming
Superfast wireless links are coming

Alarm monitoring continues the process of change and announcements about faster wireless technology, as well as new services from providers like SCSI, will more aggressively pull customers forward into a post-rebate future.  And recent developments suggest that process is about to speed up – big time. 

AS readers will be aware, there was plenty of change evident at Security 2017 but the broader monitoring industry was where the greatest part of that change seemed to be. From the point of view of monitoring providers, SCSI’s announcement that it intends to engage more tightly with the monitoring vertical was a big thing. It’s not the newest of news – SCSI and Bold Technologies already have a relationship – but it’s the implicit recognition of the ramp up in comms that’s as noteworthy as the drive towards symbiosis. As a wireless company SCSI has a strong sense of 4G and is keeping a weather eye on 5G as well. 

According to SCSI’s Dale Acott, 4G can give 80-90MB downloads, which is miles faster than any cabled service and is a game changer for the entire concept of monitoring. Will the future be about fast, secure alarm communications? Not only. It’s going to be about great big pipes from anywhere to everywhere that will allow security installers, integrators – and let’s be honest, telcos and utility providers, and anyone else who can get a foot into the market - to take monitoring to a whole new place. It’s hard to know what that place is going to look like because any organisation with the appropriate network infrastructure can get into it. From the point of view of a wireless-centric provider like SCSI, the best way to manage an uncertain future is to invent it. 

We’ve gone on about comms, video monitoring and all the rest of it for so long it feels like crying wolf to talk about the lateral potential of the monitoring market in the short term but nevertheless, that potential is there and the only thing that has really held back massive change has been holistic bandwidth. Frankly, with 4G offering such furious speeds (upload is more important than download for many applications), NBN is starting to look yester-tech, fibre notwithstanding. 

Telstra’s 4G is a partnership between itself, Ericsson, Qualcomm Technologies and Netgear and it’s the potential in the pipe that offers such endless scope for disruption. For instance, Telstra’s Gigabit LTE network has a laboratory-tested download of 1GB and an upload of 150MB per second – it’s about a third of this in the wild but it’s still miles better than NBN. According to Telstra, Gigabit performance will improve access to high-quality video streaming, and facilitate emerging mobile virtual reality applications and experiences, and is a key step towards 5G. This Gigabit LTE service is possible because of LTE Advanced features such as 4x4 MIMO, 3CA (Three Carrier Aggregation) and higher order modulation (256QAM).

Mike Wright, group managing director, networks, for Telstra said earlier in the year that Telstra’s customers with a Gigabit-capable device could now enjoy a faster mobile experience for both downloads and uploads.

“Gigabit LTE is also an important step on our journey to 5G and demonstrates Telstra’s commitment to delivering Australians a world class network now and into the future.”

5G is like 4G only faster and better – it’s more than a statement of intent than anything else – there’s no actual standard for 5G – just a commitment to better, faster, stronger (there’s that accelerationism again). 5G aims to offer much more than 4G capacity with device-to-device comms and ‘massive machine communications’. In a sense 5G is device-based comms management between all devices in a network – they will use whatever is the best and most efficient and most reliable route to best performance. But there’s a technical side to it as well - in software and directional comms.

If Telstra was not working with Ericsson – they recently achieved a download speed of more than 20Gbps on a test bed – it would be hard to credit this stuff as feasible. But not only is 5G feasible, Telstra will go to trial with it on the Gold Coast next year, though what form the service will take – it’s scope and the nature of access - is hard to say. 

According to Telstra, the company has already started the process of modernising its wireless core network in preparation for 5G with training of engineers, network function virtualisation (NFV) and software defined networking (SDN) technologies being put into place. The company’s engineers say this will allow Telstra to support increased network configuration and deployment flexibility to different market segments, and to tailor wireless connectivity through a concept called network slicing. 

From a technical point of view, network slicing is a form of virtual network architecture that allows multiple virtual networks to be created on top of a common shared physical infrastructure. Once this is achieved, virtual networks are then customised to meet the needs of applications, services, devices, customers or operators. As you can imagine with 5G, the physical wireless network will be divided into multiple networks able to support different radio access networks – it’s a splintering of the core network – through use of different frequencies or layers of the radio spectrum. 

From Telstra’s point of view, 5G will change the way things like automation, process control and monitoring of all types are handled, as well as facilitating future-tech like autonomous drones, self-driving vehicles and changing the delivery of services like education, healthcare and plenty more. IoT – well, 5G will be needed for IoT. Or 5G will drive IoT, whatever that is – because IoT is another conceptual beast no one has entirely come to terms with yet. 

5G testing in a real-world environment will include looking at expected high speeds and ultra-low latency, as well as multi-user MIMO (multiple input multiple output) capabilities, which involve multiple antennas carrying data to and from the end user to improve performance. Telstra’s 5G demonstration will also test beam steering technology, where the beam steering antenna array tracks a user’s location and directs a mobile signal straight to a device rather than sending it out in all directions or to a particular sector as it does today. The advantage of beam steering is that the mobile signal to each user is optimised with less interference resulting in better network performance and more capacity.

What does the future of monitoring look like? It’s bloody hard to say. The only sure thing is that it’s going to look nothing like the past.♦

By John Adams