Emergence of Wireless Alarm System Installations a Result of Reliability, Affordability

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Executives say wireless technology has gotten so good, there’s almost no reason not to use it when installing alarm systems.

RELESS IS FAST becoming the preferred way to install alarm systems in residential settings as well as small- to midsize commercial buildings. According to Security Sales & Integration’s 2014 Installation Business Report, 53% of intrusion alarm installations presently include wireless devices, and nearly a third of all projects (28%) are exclusively wireless.

There are three reasons for this trend, starting with the advent of 802.11, panel-to-network connectivity where a total-wireless approach has its distinct advantages. The second reason is an enormous effort on the part of security managers to better control installation labor. The third aspect is an infatuation on the part of the general public with the everything-wireless approach, which is sure to originate from nearly everyone’s use of mobile devices.

Regarding the third point, mobile solutions and the wireless connective technologies used in security are tied together in a relationship that not only makes sense, but can make you money. In a similar manner, smartphone and wireless alarm systems also intercept broadband/Internet services, not only from a central station monitoring standpoint, but also additional recurring monthly revenue (RMR) opportunities where security dealers sell interactive video verification, cloud storage and cloud signal processing through third-party services, such as Alarm.com and SecureCom Wireless.

A Growing Preference for Wireless

During the past 40 years, the technology used to protect homes and businesses has taken some radical turns. Those who worked with the first Frequency Shift Keying (FSK) wireless systems are sure to remember the problems these systems created when troubleshooting a house full of transmitters without individual identities. Most alarm veterans surely remember swearing to never use wireless again. But as they say, “never say never.” Today, not only have veteran installers changed their minds about using wireless, but many believe that wireless is the only way to go.

“Wireless has gotten so good that it doesn’t make sense retrofitting wires when a quality wireless solution is available,” says Greg Peninger, president of ProTex Technologies of Cedar Park, Texas. “If there are wires already there, we’ll repurpose them if we can. If it’s a small business with a drop ceiling, for example, we might run wires, especially if it’s a retail store where the front door gets a hundred openings a day. It really depends on the situation.”

There is no denying, with the steady emergence of new, reliable and affordable wireless equipment, the security industry is on fire for wireless. Not only does wireless make the installer’s life easier, but it reduces labor costs. Peninger adds that it’s also ideal because the skill-sets necessary to retrofit wires in a large facility are associated with a dying art. On the end-user side of the coin, the use of wireless means less mess to clean up and shorter installation times.

Enhancements Can Entice Prospects

The many wireless features that panel manufacturers now offer include myriad options or enhancements that go a long way to convincing new prospects to purchase a wireless alarm system. This is especially true of home control and automation features that essentially turn a common, ordinary alarm system into a daily luxury. Many of these enhancements assist in making the home or business more secure while creating a safer place to be, not to mention a savings in energy usage.

“Most every manufacturer has utilized Z-Wave and/or ZigBee wireless for certain automation features, such as lighting control, thermostats and locksets. Also, with the advent of broadband communicators and advanced cellular communicators, dealers, installers and end users have further options to access a system remotely through the Internet and their smartphones,” says Mike Steffancin, inside security sales consultant with Security Source, a security and fire/life-safety equipment distribution firm in Parma, Ohio.

For example, there are thermostats capable of communicating with a wireless security panel via the Z-Wave or ZigBee protocol. Using a broadband connection, the end user can read and adjust the temperature in their home or office in real-time. They also can adjust the thermostat’s set-points using their smartphones.

“There’s a smartphone app for this that allows the user to control Z-Wave home automation devices,” says Brian Morgan, a security consultant with Allied Fire & Security of Spokane, Wash. “Z-Wave and ZigBee have an effective range of about 30 feet, but because this is a mesh technology, you can build your system out as you add devices.”

In other words, powered devices that use Z-Wave and ZigBee are engineered to retransmit signals, similar to a repeater, which is referred to as mesh technology. This can stretch 30 feet into 150 or more with a number of powered devices throughout a protected space.

Lighting control is also a valuable home control feature, and Z-Wave and ZigBee make that possible in conjunction with a wireless security system.

“The new deal for us is the LED lightbulbs with Z-Wave built into them. We un-screw the old lightbulb and replace it with a Z-Wave bulb,” says Peninger. “It enables our installs to go smoother with fewer people involved. It makes the job super easy.”

Smartphone Lock and Camera Control

Z-Wave- and ZigBee-enabled electric locking hardware also is a great benefit to end users. It enables home and business owners to use a smartphone to unlock and lock their doors. And when they’re absent, they can use their smartphone to unlock the door for a serviceperson.

The smartphone-wireless alarm system connection can also include a number of wireless cameras positioned throughout the home. In the previous scenario, wireless cameras can assist the owner in keeping an eye on the serviceperson’s actions. And then, when the work is done, the alarm system can be rearmed and the door lock secured, all by way of the wireless alarm panel.

“We use Yale Z-Wave locks, mostly,” says Morgan. “The touchscreens on them look nice and they come in a variety of finishes. ZigBee works in the same manner.”

To make all of this happen, wireless alarm equipment makers have engineered ZigBee and Z-Wave standalone modules or circuit boards that plug into the motherboard inside the alarm panel. These wireless modules are capable of carrying a variety of command signals between the alarm control panel and home control devices. In the DMP product line, for example, the 738Z module provides a means of sending Z-Wave signals from the alarm system to any number of devices.

Hardwired-to-Wireless Conversion

Another wireless enhancement that can assist alarm dealers in closing wireless alarm system sales and assuming control of others is the translator module. The two primary types are hardwire to wireless and wireless to wireless.

The hardwire-to-wireless translator is designed to convert hardwired sensors into data that is then wirelessly carried to a hybrid or totally wireless alarm panel, like Honeywell’s L7000 LYNX Touch or Resolution Products’ Helix RE6100S.

In the past, dealers were forced to install a single transmitter per hardwire loop. This approach, which carried a relatively high price tag in labor and material, can now be streamlined by using a single hardwire-to-wireless translator module that will convert up to eight or more wired loops into a single, wireless data stream. Here all eight or nine loops will report simultaneously.

Resolution Products’ translator, for example, operates using battery power, just as single transmitters do. An optional 12VDC plug-in power supply is available. Honeywell also offers a similar translator module, Model 5800C2W, which will convert up to nine hardwire devices/ loops to wireless.

Control of Dissimilar Transmitters

As mentioned, a second type of translator is a wireless-to-wireless device that allows one manufacturer’s totally wireless alarm panel, like DMP’s XTL, to receive and understand another manufacturer’s wireless sensors, such as Honeywell’s 5800 Series. The marvelous thing about this concept is that it provides Dealer No. 1 with a means to easily assume control over Dealer No. 2’s alarm account(s).

“We have used them in the past. It’s really good to know that it’s available because it can mean the difference between assuming control of a competitor’s account and losing the bid altogether,” says Peninger. “RMR is certainly a key part of our business and we’re grateful to DMP for making this device available to us.”

DMP’s 738A, for example, allows Peninger to take over a wireless system that uses Honeywell 5800 Series transmitters. Not only will this work with the XTL, but it will also accommodate hybrid XR and XT panels. Peninger adds that the 738I translator module also allows his technicians to assume control of ITI wireless sensors.

Another example is the Qolsys line of wireless products. The IQ Translator, for example, comes in two styles, one that converts hardwired devices into wireless and the other that allows the alarm company to take over other manufacturers’ wireless equipment. The latter is capable of “understanding” alarm transmitters that operate in the 345MHz and 433MHz radio bands.

The Revolution Products translator comes in the form of a circuit board that slips into a slot on the Helix alarm panel’s motherboard. According to the manufacturer, this card is capable of reading the radio signals from 2GIG, GE, Honeywell, DSC and NAPCO wireless sensors.

“There are a growing number of manufacturers making wireless translator modules,” says Steffancin. “Currently, we handle the 2GIG, but there are many others that have sensors compatible with wireless panels from a range of manufacturers, such as Ion Security, which makes wireless contacts compatible with GE/Interlogix, DSC and 2GIG. Others are Secure Wireless and Resolution Products.”

Given the dependability built into today’s wireless technology, there’s no excuse not to embrace radio-based solutions. Not only do wireless advancements improve how today’s systems work, they offer alarm dealers additional opportunities to sell equipment and services, all of which spells M-O-N-E-Y.


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