From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: Hey guys! DSL?
Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2007 20:39:47 -0400
On Wed, 13 Jun 2007 08:20:59 -0400, Frank Tabor <email@example.com> wrote:
>On Wed, 13 Jun 2007 04:34:34 -0400, Neon John <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>>Why's that? All the panels that I used to sell and install and still use (FBII)
>>needed was loop current and a dial tone. The Linksys/Vonage boxes supply both. The
>>panel can still seize the line by simply being wired in series with the output of the
>>Vonage box, just like with Ma Bell's line. From the Vonage box on out it looks like
>>Or are you speaking of some sort of regulation prohibiting same?
>From the ADT web page, ;
>"While an improving technology, Voice over IP (VOIP) is not a reliable
>means for transmitting alarm signals, according to the Underwriters
>Laboratories. VOIP customers will require ADT's cellular solution
>called Parallel Protection."
>My daughter lives in Charlotte, (Matthews) and ADT wouldn't even
>consider VOIP at all. Without a hard phone line, no service.
Oh. Those guys. ADT is a 4 letter word in the alarm business. They serve a role,
though, making everyone else look good. Peddling UL as a "feature" for
residential/small business service is an example.
"UL" grade alarm service is for narrowly specified circumstances, mainly very high
value targets. Bank vaults, jewelry store vaults, etc. "UL grade" service is there
simply because the insurance companies require it. They really would prefer DC
continuity leased lines still, but have grudgingly gone along with dial-up, though
they still require a dedicated phone line. They also want little more than
window/door contact and floor switch monitoring. It hasn't been that long ago that
they finally approved PIRs and acoustic glass break alarms.
There's a parameter in the FBII config called "UL enable". It turns off almost all
of the panel's features. Delay entry, remote fanout modules, etc. The nickname for
"UL enable" is "cripple switch".
That's the traditional UL rating. It's possible that ADT bought themselves a
different, relaxed rating, basically a rubber stamp of what they do. UL has become
that in recent times. Exhibit A: Chicom-made multi-outlet strips with the brass foil
contacts. In any event, any sort of "UL rating" on alarm services is meaningless.
One last thing about ADT. Their prices. As of when I quit doing alarms about 4 or 5
years ago, it cost me $9 per line per month for 27/7 monitoring. I charged the
customer $17.99, less if they sent me referrals, paid by the year, etc. One
monitoring contractor was in Texas and the other Arkansas. It was mostly automated,
with "human-in-the-loop" only under special circumstances (client request, acoustic
monitoring, etc). What does ADT charge now? $32.50 or something like that?
Two major misconceptions that ADT has promoted: human monitoring and local
monitoring. Both are bad and local monitoring is really bad.
Human-in-the-loop (HITL) has very little positive going for it. Like any other
non-skilled job, these essentially-telemarketing-type jobs employ the low end of the
labor market. Unreliable and sometimes mentally handicapped. Even the best can get
lazy, get backed up (let a thunderstorm roll through and watch the CRTs light up from
false alarms) or simply make mistakes.
When an alarm goes off, the customer's panel transmits to the monitoring station only
a few things. Basically, the type (glass break, intrusion detection, fire, flood,
etc) and the zone (kitchen, master bedroom, etc). The time stamp is when the alarm
is received. The very simple protocols generally don't transmit that. Basically,
what can be sent in about a second at 300 baud.
There is very little that HITL can add at the monitoring station over what a computer
can do. The typical setup is: The alarm comes in. The monitoring station dials the
pre-designated callback number(s) and prompts for the security code. There are two.
One is "all OK". The other is "NOT OK, call the cops" for hostage situations.
Based on the security code response and the type of alarm, either the cops or the
fire department or maybe a private security firm is called and a standard message
delivered. "intrusion alarm, 123 main street, master bedroom". Most areas have
banned alarm companies from using 911 because of all the false alarms so they have to
call into a low priority "back channel" number. More and more the message is
delivered via dedicated dialup or even the internet.
Because of the huge number of false alarms, residential alarm notifications get the
absolute lowest priority with emergency services dispatch. Dispatchers get to know
local alarm companies, however, and will give higher priority to alarms that come in
from systems installed by the more reliable companies. That is, installers who do
solid installs after doing their homework so that few false alarms are generated. For
example, I programmed all my PIR motion sensing channels to require TWO signals
within a short time span to generate an alarm. Someone moving in an area generates
many alarms but atmospherics, the occasional mouse or ughhh, a roach crawling over
the sensor doesn't.
Alarms (primarily fire [not smoke]) can be programmed for the monitoring company to
automatically call the appropriate emergency services agency. Fire alarms are
thermal (thermostat and infrared/UV) and smoke obscuration. Too many things cause
ionization detectors to go off (cooking, many aerosols, etc) to waste a fire
department truck roll without checking and besides, a smoke alarm generally gives
enough advance warning to do the confirmation process. Of course, the customer has
the option of fully automatic notification but then they're responsible for false
alarm fees from the city ($50 first time, $500 second time in my city, third time in
a year, disconnect.)
It's evident that all the above is trivially automated and that HITL adds nothing to
the process other than potential mistakes and cost. So. Automated monitoring is
both cheaper and of higher quality than human monitoring. HITL with the big
companies is there primarily to reassure the typical yuppy panty-wetting urban
housewife that "no, Mrs Numbnuts, your house isn't on fire. You simply burned the
boiling water again."
The other myth. Local monitoring. That is actually a very bad "feature" unless you
don't mind being burgled when you're not home. The reason is those pesky humans
again. Many monitoring station operators are low rent, minimum wage off-the-street
types. Some are criminals and some get the job primarily because they ARE burglars
and/or are in rings. Think about it.
The alarm station has all sorts of personal information on file. Worse, it knows what
type panel you use, what protocol, whether it has cut-line reporting and so on. Even
worse, it knows when you're gone for a long time and when the system is disarmed
(you're home or you forgot to arm it.) The operator can call to see if you're home
and you won't think a thing about it because he'll tell you that they got an alarm
that they think is false and are just checking.
The ONLY defense against this is miles. Lots of miles. Having the monitoring
company on the other side of the country means nothing as far as response time. An
800 call (what most panel-generated calls are) goes as fast to the other coast as it
does across the street. Same for the return call to you and/or to the emergency
services. What great physical distance DOES do is preclude local rings from using
the monitoring company as a victim feeder system. With the high turnover in the biz
and the increasingly fully automated systems, even wide-spread rings become almost
impossible to organize.
I kept two companies under contract and chose one at random for each customer. That
way a burglar didn't even know which part of the country the monitoring station was
in. I had a "blanket" account with each. I programmed the customer's panel to first
call the designated monitoring company and if the call failed, call the other and
report to the blanket account. The response from that account was to call either me
or my partner (whichever of us had "the phone" at the time) and reported the customer
number and the alarm details. We could then decide what to do. This provided almost
all the benefits of true redundant monitoring but without the cost. Obviously we
couldn't provide that service to thousands of customers but for a few hundred, it's
easy. Nod goes to the small company.
While I'm at it, I recommend to those still using answering services to use an
out-of-town one for the same reason. It's not good for the local answering service
to know that Doc Pillpusher is off on another golf junket, er, medical conference. If
someone less-than-honest in the company knows that then it's an open invitation to
mosey over to the Doc's house and help himself.
I learned all this stuff from my partner who had been in the alarm business all his
life. I just shook my head at the antics of the big companies such as ADT. Like
their "starter system". Sometimes $100-200 "installation fee", other times given
away as a "special". The cheapest panel on the market, one code pad, one PIR motion
detector and one smoke alarm. Usually wireless (don't get me started on wireless
One smoke alarm is "OK" but not great. One PIR, generally in a hallway, means that
the bad guy can come in through a window and ransack a room or two and never get near
the thing. That "starter system" serves the company's purposes, of course, which is
to get you hooked on that high monthly monitoring fee.
OK, back to the question at hand - VOIP reporting. Nowadays, at least in my
experience, internet service is as reliable and many times more reliable than POTS.
I've personally had a number of instances where I had no dial-tone on my POTS but DSL
on that same line was working fine. Cable companies have been pressured by the FCC
to become as reliable as POTS and most have done so. I can't recall the last time I
had an internet outage but I certainly can POTS outages. If anything, dial-up
reporting over VOIP is MORE reliable than POTS.
There's another aspect. Every two bit criminal who watches crime shows on TV knows
to "cut the phone line" (which triggers the cut line alarm on good systems) but how
many think to cut the cable TV line? Essentially none, according to what I read.
Typically, the few that do think they're cutting another phone line.
The future is, of course, direct reporting using IP. The alarm sits on the network
or preferably is jacked in the line before the DSL or cable modem and contains its
own modem. It speaks TCP/IP and reports directly to the monitoring station. Once
this is in place, there are sooo many opportunities for enhanced services. Live
audio and video monitoring.
Video motion detection (very nice when there are pets in the house - the active zone
can be set to ignore the areas where the pets can be). Live two-way video/audio with
the customer. Sonalert in the local area used to offer that - an alarm caused a two
way audio channel to open - but it required a very expensive leased line. With this
two-way capability, the computer can monitor the situation and optionally stick a
HITL to chat with the customer and visually monitor the situation.
Wi-Max and other wireless internet services will make this even more reliable because
it eliminates the vulnerable incoming line. And the cost of that line.
As usual, it'll be the independents who implement this first, just like they did
dial-up reporting. ADT stuck with dry copper DC loops on lease lines for years after
the industry had moved to dial-up reporting. DC loops were actually LESS reliable
but try to tell ADT that.
Well, THAT turned into another brain-dump..... Frank, suggest to your daughter that
she seek out a reputable local alarm installer. Her service will be of much higher
quality and much less expensive. I especially like the companies that are operated
by cops and firemen as second businesses. That helps in more ways than you can
PS: watch for an expanded version of this article on my blog.
From: John De Armond
Subject: Re: Hey guys! DSL?
Date: Thu, 14 Jun 2007 07:04:35 -0400
On Thu, 14 Jun 2007 03:45:22 -0400, Frank Tabor <email@example.com> wrote:
>On Wed, 13 Jun 2007 20:39:47 -0400, Neon John <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>>Well, THAT turned into another brain-dump..... Frank, suggest to your daughter that
>>she seek out a reputable local alarm installer. Her service will be of much higher
>>quality and much less expensive. I especially like the companies that are operated
>>by cops and firemen as second businesses. That helps in more ways than you can
>None of the alarm companies in that area will use VOIP. It doesn't
>matter how reliable VOIP is, if the alarm company won't use it, you
>can't force them.
You've checked 'em all out, have you? Every single one? Hmmm. Sometimes I think
yer head is as hard as granite.
As a practical matter, they don't have any option. If you're going to VOIP, simply
unplug your house phone system at the demarc (that little box with the modular jumper
that separates the phone company's wiring from yours) and jumper the house wiring to
the VOIP box. That'll move the alarm panel and all the house phones over in one fell
swoop. A little longer modular jumper will do, no wiring necessary. The alarm
monitoring company will still get the same ANI (think "caller ID") and the same
signals as with the phone company.
Getting a new alarm system installed with existing VOIP requires a bit more
cleverness but it can be done. My first line of offense would be simply not to tell
'em. They are required by regulation to connect the panel behind the demarc so if
the VOIP box is hidden and cleverly wired, the installer will never know.
I can think of several other methods but that's good enough for now.