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Cellular rings in new alarm options.

PRIOR TO CELLULAR TECHNOLOGY, alarm companies and end users had few alternatives beyond hard-line methods for transmitting alarm signals from point A to point B. Choices consisted of a dial-up telephone line, a leased signal line, a multiplex line, and a derived channel, which is also known as long-range radio (LRR). Cellular transceivers open new options for alarm communications, but users must beware of potential patent restrictions and other concerns.

Of the communication systems predating cellular, LRR was considered the safest from compromise. LRR was, however, an expensive alternative for the average alarm company. Multiple tower sites had to be installed for alarm-reporting redundancy, and LRR networks required a substantial investment. Some network installations required alarm companies to share facilities between selected alarm companies in specific geographical areas.

One company offered its version of LRR to the masses of smaller alarm companies by installing regional networks with reasonable hook-up and monitoring fees. This network was a great alternative to using telephone lines. It was the first generation of high-security alarm transmission that did not depend on a telephone line. It is not available, however, on a nationwide basis.

The installation of such a network depends on several factors, such as the availability of frequencies as allocated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Alarm companies may have trouble obtaining these frequencies nationwide, or the available frequencies may be too crowded. For a wise investment, a concentrated alarm-using population would have to exist to justify an LRR network installation.

Cellular technology changed all of this. The advent of cellular technology was designed for wide-range, mobile radio communication. The alarm industry was not considered during cellular technology development. The main idea was that people could communicate, across town or across the nation, via a telephone in their car.

What happened next was the phenomenal explosion of an ever-expanding nationwide cellular radio grid that allowed communication anywhere across the country via cellular radio. Once the major metropolitan areas were covered, rural service area (RSA) carriers started to come on-line. Now remote areas, heretofore without telephone lines, had a means of coast-to-coast communication via the cellular network thanks to these RSA providers. This vast network is expanding with blanket coverage across North America.

The first installation of a stationary cellular communication system to report alarm signals occurred in 1986 at a chicken farm in upstate New York. This transmission system was used to report temperature changes in an incubator shed where temperature is critical in the hatching and raising of baby chicks. Since then, the advent of cellular technology has had a significant impact on the loss prevention industry.

If voice could be sent, why not alarm signals? Enterprising companies envisioned offering fine-tuned, stationary, cellular products to transmit alarm signals via cellular. The next barrier to be broken was the high monthly tariff the cellular service providers charged their mobile customers for cellular usage. They had to be convinced that the installation of stationary cellular equipment for transmission of alarm signals had a much greater life expectancy than a cellular telephone in someone's automobile, which had a national average of only eighteen months. That was done, and now attractive cellular rates for stationary installations are becoming available nationwide.

Alarm-reporting systems can now be installed where only local systems could be installed before. Cellular also provides an alternative means of communicating alarm signals. It can be used as the primary or secondary means of alarm communication with a high degree of signal transmission security and clarity. The use of cellular to transmit alarm signals does not require any additional investment in equipment at the monitoring central station.

The price of the stationary cellular package is coming down. The initial price of the equipment package in the fall of 1987 was approximately $1,600. Today, that same package with a great deal more versatility is priced at under a thousand dollars, and the price is continuing to drop.

The first generation of cellular product for the alarm industry is a system that retrofits to an existing alarm control panel with a built-in communicator, or a standalone communicator. This product offers the communicator an optional path of sending the alarm signal to the central station. The second generation product incorporates a special switching circuit that allowed cellular to be self-purging in a redundant application. This feature allows the cellular network to be monitored in the same manner as a dial-up telephone line.

The service/no-service visual-indication feature that normally is part of a cellular handset could now be converted into an electromechanical switch to report the failure of the cellular network over alternative communication systems. This feature was recently awarded an application patent by the U.S. Patent Office. If that patent is enforced and the user has a unit that does not have a licensing agreement to use that patent, the user could be guilty of contributory infringement. Users should make sure that manufacturers and installers of products have the proper licensing procedures to use the features on each device.

The third-generation cellular product will be an optional package offered by the individual manufacturers of alarm control panels. This product may work with a cellular data interface, a device that provides artificial voltage and dial tone to peripheral equipment. Currently, dial tone and voltage must be present before most digital communicators can communicate; however, the cellular data interface is tightly controlled by existing patents.

To offer a third-generation product using a built-in cellular data interface, the manufacturer would have to secure a licensing agreement from the holder of that patent. The alternative would be for the manufacturer to circumvent the cellular data interface altogether by having the panel communication output transmit directly into the electronic buss of the cellular transceiver. Whichever method is used to get the alarm communicator's message into the cellular transceiver, the service/no-service feature generated through the transceiver buss will still have to be incorporated in the final design.

Several factors should be considered when selecting a cellular communication product to retrofit an alarm system. It is best to select a product where the manufacturer of the cellular transceiver also manufacturers cellular-switching equipment for the cellular service providers. Such a manufacturer would cater not only to the end user with a consumer product but also to the cellular service industry providing service to the end user. The product is more likely to be on the cutting edge of cellular technology.

This expertise is critical because cellular technology at the mobile telephone switching office (MTSO) is constantly being improved. The envelope is constantly being expanded, and both the end user and the alarm company need to know that today's cellular equipment can adequately meet today's needs and communicate with the ever-expanding technical horizons of cellular-switching equipment being installed by the cellular service providers.

Exposure to liability is another consideration. No one in the alarm industry manufactures a cellular transceiver. Alarm companies and end users are, consequently, relying on third parties. In addition, cellular transceivers were originally designed for mobile communication, not alarm reporting. If a cellular call from an automobile does not get through, the caller simply tries again. For alarm transmissions, each installation is made for protection against property or life-threatening situations and the product's reliability and performance during every call are imperative.

Users should determine whether the cellular transceiver's manufacturer has signed off on its use to transmit alarm signals. Ratings are another consideration. Certain cellular models have recently been granted UL listings of Grade A and B. The California state fire marshall has also recognized one cellular product alarm signal transmission. The revised edition of the National Fire Protection Association's NFPA #71 recognizes cellular as an acceptable back-up communication to support a telephone land line. A Grade AA is also anticipated, as is more enhanced technology, known as cellular digital packaged data (CDPD).

CDPD will allow simultaneous digital and voice information to be sent over the same frequencies. With such technology, several cellular transceivers in the same cell can be assigned the same set of duplex frequencies to transmit voice and data. The service providers will have to readjust tariffs and air time to accommodate this new cellular feature. Pricing is expected to be attractive enough so that cellular can be used for AA transmission. At that point in time, the same equipment with Grade A and B listings should qualify for an AA listing, as well. Before this service can be offered by the cellular service providers, however, they will have to make a hardware and software investment in their MTSO and their network of cell sites.

Cellular transmission will open up whole new worlds of applications. Still to come in the not-too-distant future will be worldwide cellular satellite networks. The possibilities of monitoring alarm systems in distant countries from the comfort of a company's local central location are considerable.

Michael Lebowitz is president of Cellular Alarm Systems, Inc., and managing partner of Cellular Alarm Products, Ltd., both in Dallas.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Alarm Technology; cellular technology-based alarm-reporting systems
Author:Lebowitz, Michael
Publication:Security Management
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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