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January 26, 2011

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I4S video: Simon Banks on the IP signalling debate

Let’s start with the basics. In simple terms, there are two types of IP signalling: one that uses a secure, robust IT infrastructure and one that employs ADSL/Broadband.

These services differ vastly in their performance and, indeed, in their ability to be ‘always on’ for every second of every day.

At this point, it’s worth noting that the public Internet is quite acceptable for e-mails, web browsing and a host of other applications.

The security industry demands that a signalling system is ready to transmit at any available second. A major corporation will have robust IT solutions in place for other business-critical applications and, in this instance, IP signalling may be in good company.

Blot on the copybook

That said, such data-critical systems’ managers may vigorously oppose the notion of having an alarm signalling system ‘bolted on’.

It could become the blot on the copybook of a highly secure IT configuration: something an IT manager would oppose just to keep their job.

Denial of Service attacks brought Amazon to its knees over the Christmas period, and that’s before we even get started on firewalls…

Most commercial installations in smaller SMEs and industrial units will rely on Broadband, and that’s where IP signalling falters.

There’s no shame in autonomy. Convergence is not the answer to everything, as we’ve seen in IP CCTV versus analogue scenarios. When Internet technologies converge, all of your eggs are in one cyber basket (as Voice-over-IP leader Skype found out to its cost a month or so ago).

I like the fact that my mobile phone has a camera facility, but I wouldn’t want my alarm system connected to my coffee machine – it’s perhaps a novelty, but hardly what you would call ‘essential’.

DualCom has of course developed an IP variant, but it’s only sold to large corporates who take responsibility for their own network integrity.

As the market leader, we outsell all dual signalling providers put together. Our IP sales make up approximately 5% of our total signalling sales, with PSTN/GPRS taking care of the remainder.

This might explain why some IP signalling providers are now offering PSTN/GPRS signalling even though a year ago they were publicly condemning its use, and branding the users of PSTN as luddites!

IP signalling: it’s still niche

IP signalling hasn’t captured the mass market for the simple reason that it’s niche. Most IP alarm signalling providers have been trading for over ten years and still have relatively little traction.

There’s a reason for this, and it lies in the hands of the professional installer. Just like break-glass detectors and pre-quad/microwave PIRs, IP signalling products are just not up to the job in a general market that demands round-the-clock reliability.

It’s fair to say that the ‘Hoi Polloi Installer’ cannot afford to spend two hours figuring out a proxy server, or ensuring that every router in the path of the alarm signal is power backed-up.

Ergo, the ‘Hoi Polloi Installer’ will not use IP on the basis they feel that it’s complex, unreliable, difficult to install and building infrastructure-dependant, with switches/routers being plugged into 13 Amp sockets (less than even the minimum requirement of the solid BS 4737 fused spur stipulation).

In addition, there are more costs to an installer than just the price of signalling equipment and service charges. Labour overhead is the most significant concern, particularly so in the current financial climate.

Not an ‘always on’ service

IP is not an ‘always on’ service and is, therefore, unreliable. I for one wish it was. I would much rather put our secondary traffic over the free Internet than pay for installers to use our Freephone lines. It’s not up to the job, so we don’t.

IP requires elaborate encryption because it sends data across the open Internet. In my 25 years’ experience I’ve never been aware of a signalling substitution or ‘hack’, and have never seen the need for advanced 128 bit encryption when it comes to traditional security signalling.

I’ve witnessed many IP systems line fault false alarm to the point of police response withdrawal, and I also know of many leading Alarm Receiving Centres that have their IP systems ‘slugged’ to a four-hour response time because of the sheer number of line faults.

As a company, we’ve just spent GB pound 30,000 on commissioning an independent report into the UK’s signalling market. I can summarise that the findings do not endorse the credibility of IP signalling on so many levels.

Some facts for consideration

It’s also worth pointing out some facts:

  • LPS1277 is not a standard, rather it’s a document by which signalling can be assessed by just one test house (which is fairly anti-competitive in itself)
  • EN50136 was the basis for LPS1277 with some additions that are centred around encryption and substitution (and, arguably, a clearer definition of the signalling grading structure)
  • the BSIA has publicly resisted any association or support for the LPS1277 document
  • CSL DualCom’s a BSIA member and we give the Trade Association our full support
  • two of the three IP providers (representing less than 2% of the UK signalling market) are advanced or complete in their compliance to the second draft of LPS1277 (Version 3 is still out for comment)
  • there’s no evidence to suggest that the NSI or the SSAIB (both of whom are overseen by UKAS) are supporting the document
  • PSTN-dependant signalling is not capable of attaining the overly complex levels of encryption required by LPS1277
  • LPS1277 has been disproportionately influenced by 2% of the signalling industry (IP), leaving 98% of the industry (ie non-IP) precluded unless it adopts the development of an IP secondary path product as only IP products can meet the requirements of LPS1277

We believe DualCom’s a winning fomula because it’s quick to install, affordable and reliable.

Unlike IP signalling’s reputation for frequent line fault false alarms (eventually leading to the aforementioned police response withdrawal and unnecessary key holder call-outs), DualCom’s false alarm rate with our new WorldSIM has taken line fault false alarms to just one in every three years.

Now that, I would respectfully suggest, is progress!

Simon Banks is commercial director at CSL DualCom

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