Alarm Panels: Selecting the Best of the Best
DSC's iotega smart home system.
In 2018 it’s harder than ever to establish which is the leading security alarm panel. What are the criteria? Do you seek size, lateral integration or a beautiful customer interface? That depends on what your customer requires…
There’s nothing easy about selecting the best alarm panel in 2018. Even trying to define the label ‘alarm panel’ is perilous. Bog-standard PCB-driven controllers now have highly polished app front ends leveraging the power of cloud, public infrastructure and smart mobile devices to do things we couldn’t have imagined 10 years ago.
Making this more complicated are additional layers – hub-based solutions, including DSC iotega and SCSI’s new Almond merge IP convenience with thoughtful design elements like battery backup for integrated routers, onboard wireless comms of all types and the capacity to wrangle inputs and outputs capable of detecting and driving virtually anything.
Adding to the complexity is another layer of addressable devices – often nothing more than a NIC-provisioned smoke sensor that’s as likely to use Wi-Fi as a mouthpiece as anything else. And there are the toy systems – cheap, ubiquitous ‘smart home systems’ sold by retailers on and offline, and capable of offering reasonable performance while batteries last, if basic self-monitoring and entertaining barrel distortion happen to be your thing.
But solutions narrow down for security professionals. According to Stanley El Komala, senior product manager, intrusion at BGWT, the best alarm panel is the panel that’s best for a customer’s application.
“Depending on the customer’s needs we have various products for each category of customers, for instance, residential, retail and commercial,” El Komala explains. “Matching the products to the customer type is important based around how the product will be use.
“For example, in retail and commercial segments, interaction with security system will be far less than in residential segment and as such end user features for residential like mobile apps, home automation control, end user interface and self-monitoring options are important. Where in retail and commercial are easy to use, scalability, and integration to other products are the important one.
“In my opinion, DSC PowerSeries NEO is our top of the range alarm panel for the commercial segment and can accommodate the residential and retail segments brilliantly,” El Komala says. “Meanwhile, in the residential and retail segments, with the mobile apps, home automation, end user interface (touchscreen, mobile apps, etc) and self-monitoring, Qolsys IQ Panel 2 and DSC iotega are best suited to our customer’s requirements.”
“Within the commercial segment; DSC Power Series NEO offers hybrid systems (hardwired and wireless), 128 zones with PowerG technology, PSTN, 3G, Ethernet, dual path communicators plus a cloud backend with Alarm.com for home automation. It also offers the integration with other products, from access control and video platforms with an SDK.
El Komala says that in the residential and retail segments the Qolsys IQ Panel 2 is really making waves.
“Qolsys IQ Panel 2 includes 7-inch touchscreen, 128 wireless zones, dual path connectivity, Bluetooth disarming, Z-Wave Plus, built-in glassbreak, picture snapshot for disarming, on-board video tutorials for end user, RF 433MHz (soon to be release with Power-G technology), plus cloud backend with Alarm.com for home automation. The DSC iotega includes a keypad (with optional wire-free arming keypad or Wi-Fi 7-inch touchscreen keypad), PowerG wireless technology, 128 wireless zones, dual path connectivity, Z-Wave Plus, and cloud backend with SecureNet and soon to be released with Alarm.com.”
El Komala says the capabilities that set BGWT’s offerings apart from the competition are significant.
“With the DSC PowerSeries NEO the undisputed capability that sets it apart from the competitors is the wireless PowerG technology,” he says. “This includes FHSS (Frequency Hoping Spread Spectrum), full 2-way synchronized TDMA (time division multiple access) communication that does short transmission that extends the battery life of PowerG devices to beyond 5 years, secured wireless communication with 128-bit AES (advanced encryption standard) encryption and a line of sight communication range is 2KM.
“Meanwhile, with the Qolsys IQ Panel 2 it is the integrated form factor and features such as 7-inch Touchscreen, dual path connectivity, Bluetooth disarming, Z-Wave Plus, built-in glassbreak sensor, picture snapshot for disarming, on-board video tutorials for end user).
With the DSC iotega it is similar to the Qolsys IQ Panel 2, with the added benefit of PowerG Wireless Technology for more complex wireless deployment.”
End users are not the only ones who value feature-rich alarm systems. El Komala believes that for installers the most important features of an alarm panel are those that make the job easier.
“Installers want a solution that’s easy to install and fast to programme, easy to explain to end users, they want scalability and value a hybrid system (either hardwired or wireless),” he says. “Increasingly, they want a large selection of optional extras – keypads, wireless devices, communicators, home automation devices, video verification, etc – so they can meet the changing needs of customers.”
When it comes to alarm monitoring, what are the primary paths, El Komala says that due to the introduction of NBN to Australia, the use of PSTN is being phased out in place for 3G/4G or Ethernet migration paths. He argues that within 5 years 70 per cent of alarms will be communicating to monitoring centres using 4G as the primary path.
A core element of modern alarm panels is their ability to be managed using apps but it’s hard to know just how many users address their security solutions in this way.
According to Robert Meachem, most alarm panels BGWT sells today are sold with mobile apps – he puts the figure at around 90 per cent.
“The most important functionality is the ability to be able to do everything with a single mobile app,” Meachem explains. “Our experience tells us that end users want the capability to control armed away, armed stay, disarming, zones status, alarm push notifications, view and interact with video doorbell, view the picture snapshot from visual image verification, view video, control lights, control garage doors, control thermostats, control digital door locks, control water irrigation/sprinklers.
How important is video verification?
“We think that the end users will expect their alarm panel to have the ability to do video verification,” Meachem says. “Whether this is by alarm monitoring stations or direct to their mobile app and we think end user demands for video verification will be significant in the years ahead. Customers are hungry for more information and expect more from their alarm systems.”
What is the future of the traditional alarm system – is it fair to say that in the future all alarm systems will be more or less home automation systems with cloud back-ends and mobile app management?
“We believe that the traditional alarm and basic home automation systems are set to merge into a connected and interactive device,” Meachem explains. “The value of bringing these products together into one platform is what end user would expect, and because these features give the end user more control, the value proposition of this one platform will generate far more demand than the traditional alarm system only. That’s why we are so excited about our Qolsys IQ Panel 2 and DSC iotega platforms.”
For LSC’s David Lorimer, the top of the range alarm panel X864 form Italian manufacturer, AMC.
“The AMC X864 is a flexible solution offering a hybrid alarm panel (wired and wireless) that can be configured for 8–64 wired or wireless zones (using the AMC EXPR900 wireless expander modules), has 5 outputs onboard (expandable to 17 using expanders and keypads), can have 8 keypads connected, 8 Areas, 4 Groups, stores 1000 event logs and is compatible with the AMC Manager App that is available for iOS and Android platforms,” he says.
“LSC Security Supplies prides itself on bringing products to Australian shores that meet the unique needs of installer and end-user. The flexibility of AMC’s entire range was one of the reasons we decided to partner with the company as their exclusive distributor for Australian and New Zealand regions. The AMC X864 is a perfect example of this. An alarm system must be able to expand and the X864 has the capacity for 64 wired or wireless zones meaning multiple connection possibilities.”
When it comes to the percentage of alarm panels LSC sells that include app management, Lorimer says it’s a lot.
“The majority of our AMC alarm panels are supplied with either an IP module or 3G module to allow connection to the AMC cloud to provide full App functionality,” he explains. “The smartphone is, and will continue to be, a big part of everyone’s day to day activities. It follows that end users not only want, but expect the ability to control and view their alarm system through an App.
“The AMC Manager App (available for iOS and Android) gives users a quick and easy overview of their alarm system on a single screen. The App features a unique map function that can be used to see a visual representation of the alarm system using supplied floor plan templates or by uploading your own custom layout – I think the app is the thing that set this solution apart – it’s fantastic.”
While Lorimer agree video verification is important, he argues it’s not the most important feature of current alarm panels.
“Video verification is one of those nice to have features, but it is unlikely to be a deal break for the majority of end users,” he explains. “Immediate notification of an intruder is generally a higher priority for most end users. AMC is one step ahead of the rest of the game when it comes to real-time monitoring and notification. Not only does the AMC Manager App provide real-time notifications of an event, but the map function means an end-user can quickly identify the location of any devices that have detected motion.”
Lorimer is clear on what he thinks the most important features of an alarm panel are for installers.
“Programming of the panel would have to be at the top of the list,” he says. “Installers don’t want to be burdened with complicated programming menus. AMC offers easy to navigate text-based menus on a variety of different displays. This means that alarm installers who are new to AMC can work their way through the easy to understand menu options and deploy and commission a system easily and cost effectively.
“Comprehensive technical support for all AMC products is available through LSC Security Supplies. Flexibility of the system would also be on the list. The alarm system must be easily added to, whether it is using wired or wireless devices and peripherals. All AMC panels offer the flexibility of adding 64 wireless devices.”
What is the future of the traditional alarm system, according to Lorimer?
“I think there will always be a place in the market for the traditional alarm system, that is, a system design only to reliably and affordably detect and report intrusion,” he explains. “What enhancements are developed and added to these traditional platforms will predominantly be driven by the market’s wants and needs.
“If the future is alarm, home automation, video etc, all within the one system, the challenge will be bringing these new enhancements together with the traditional alarm system to create a seamless user experience. In that case, AMC’s cloud and app foundation means that if the market dictates more user enhancements AMC will be able to bring these into its stylish existing user interface – that will enhance the user experience even more.”
Over at Ness, Peter Mohan says the Ness M1 Controller holds the position as the company’s most capable platform and is constantly evolving to incorporate emerging technologies.
“M1 is well known for its key features of expandability, flexibility in operation either in a single small installation and up to 200 zone enterprise projects,” Mohan says. “Ness M1 is unique in its wide-ranging interconnectivity abilities from serial interfacing, to ventures with industry leaders such as C-BUS to IP integration with full internet capabilities.
“On that topic, a recent integration now gives M1 native Z-WAVE control with the addition to the range of the M1 Z-WAVE GATEWAY. Also upcoming is the game-changing new M1 AUTOMATION BRIDGE which allows your M1 and Z-WAVE devices to be voice controlled via the Amazon Echo or Google Home voice assistants. All I can say is “Beam me up Scotty, the future is here, indeed!”
What percentage of alarm panels do you sell that include app management.
“Everybody expects an app these days, so most Ness panel products have app management, including M1 of course, as well as D8x D16x and our Smartliving solution,” he says.
In Mohan’s opinion, the primary alarm communication paths have definitely changed.
“Since PSTN has fallen by the wayside, cellular transmission is dominating panels sales at all levels,” he says. “We see this shift to cellular as having been necessitated by the shortcoming of NBN’s provision for, or lack of analogue ports, and especially the absence of battery backup in the client terminal. What this means is that should premises’ power fail, a customer can be left without a working phone or a path back to base. That’s why cellular-enabled solutions are our strongest growing product group.”
Mohan agrees with the others that ease of installation is number one for techs.
“One of the biggest expenses for installation companies is the cost of labour,” he says. “Nobody wants to pay for a technician to fumble around setting up and programming a system with a clumsy or hard to understand GUI. Which is why the familiar Ness programming philosophy is popular with users. It’s designed by Aussies for Aussie users and has worked well for the last 46 years.
What about the future – will all alarm systems be more or less home automation systems with cloud back-ends with mobile app management?
“Since Ness Mezzo fits the description exactly of a ‘security and home automation system with cloud back-end and mobile app management’, at Ness we tend to agree that’s where we’re heading!” Mohan laughs.
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