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The forecast for growth of Voice Over IP service for 2005 was an additional half a million customer connections North American wide. Since then, it has become an increasing wave of customers abandoning their home land lines. A significant number of these people have an alarm system which will stop working once the conventional telephone line has been disconnected. So the question remains for both these clients as well as their alarm companies.....what to do about it !

The advantages of VoIP are:

Elimination of the conventional telephone line and its recurring charges
Low cost long distance rates with virtually world wide coverage
The ability to take your phone number with you wherever you travel and have access to high speed service.

The disadvantages of VoIP are:

Phone service is only as good as the internet provider, and the continuity of the computer equipment connected to it
With some providers, voice service can be somewhat choppy in nature, although this is fast disappearing
911 service is not available through some suppliers
Alarm systems do NOT work with the reliability necessary for security purposes, and even when they can be made to work initially, do not always continue to work properly.
Your alarm dealer will not be able to dial in to your alarm panel to provide remote changes as he currently can using a conventional telephone line.

So what is the solution ? There are several actually:

1- The first and most obvious one is to leave a POTS line in service for the alarm system. This will also ensure that proper 911 service is available if you ever need it. 

2- The second (not recommended solution) is to have your alarm company hook up your existing alarm system to the VoIP line and test it thoroughly to the station. This will involve a visit by your alarm company to make the necessary  connection modifications. DEPENDING UPON THE VOIP SUPPLIER, it may work, but at best,  will still be only as reliable as your internet connection, your modem and the power supply to both. Most service providers VoIP will not work - period !! There are simply too many compression techniques used by VoIP suppliers on their internet services to reliably state their services will work reliably AND continue to work!. If you must do this, as a minimum, insist your alarm company set a daily test to the station, and insist they keep track of any "fail to test" situations with the monitoring station (most companies get daily test reports from their monitoring station which indicate when their panels fail to check in). It is also mandatory that all this equipment be reliably backed up with a separate UPS system that gives several hours of AC power backup. Also, most important, do NOT sign more than a month to month  contract for monitoring services since you often cannot know if this service is going to work reliably over the longer term, and you don't want to be stuck paying for something that doesn't work.

3- Rogers cable phone service falls somewhere in the middle. Provided you use a backup power supply to keep the cable modem adequately powered during an extended power outage, this should present no problem. Cable reliability is basically equivalent to POTS service. However, Rogers phone systems come with a minimal power backup system in the modem  which is entirely insufficient for security purposes. They too require a separate UPS power supply. The telco on the other hand, provides power for the phone line from their central office.

Remember, no IP connection or cable connection, or no AC power to either, and your alarm is off line !!!

Another reliable option would be to hook up a cellular communication device that transmits alarm signals via its own wireless network. These amount to about the same investment at the front end for the equipment, but also have an ongoing monthly charge for the service (see cellular)

Companies that insist that VoIP will always work, and there is no risk in setting it up through their monitoring services, are without doubt more interested in your money than your security. Be on guard !! 

Below is a email forum posting written recently by my son David Campbell that states the situation perfectly:

"I'm an alarm technician as well. A few of you might be stymied by the 
horrendous confusion on this forum. Will it work? "No it won't" "Yes it 
will." "I got mine working!" "I couldn't get mine working." The truth 
is, most alarm companies are every bit as confused on this issue.

The fact is, VoIP lines are very numerous.. There are dozens of 
companies doing it, and they all tend to have slightly different 
technology in terms of how they work. Some of them outright say it will 
never work with any alarm. Some of them tell you they can't officially 
say it's supported, but then give instructions on how to try to do it. 
Some will work with SIA format alarm modems, some with with Contact ID. 
Some work sort of, as in they work today, won't work tomorrow.

My own experience with this is incredibly hit or miss. There is a good 
reason why most of the big boys don't like to go with this technology. 
It's terribly unreliable for alarm system monitoring! I know everyone 
out there wants to go with this stuff because it's so cheap in 
comparison to a POTS line. (Plain Old Telephone Service). Sadly, you get 
what you pay for.

I've put alarms on VoIP lines when customers twist my arm. What ANY 
decent alarm company will do, if they TOUCH VOIP AT ALL, is program 
their alarm systems to do a DAILY TEST to the monitoring company. These 
alarms can be programmed to check in with a monitoring station every 
day, or every week or whatever as a heartbeat signal. This is to assure 
long term assurance of monitoring. I get a report every morning whenever 
this test signal is missed. It gets flagged on the receiver at the 
monitoring company, and I then get to call those clients to say that 
their VoIP line is acting up again. Be ware folks. Even when they say it 
works, (which it often does), for whatever reason, it's often very flaky.

I live in Ottawa Ontario, where Nortel had their largest offices before 
they went belly up. RIP. Many of the original VoIP technologies were 
invented here back in the day. What one of the engineers who came up 
with the concepts years ago once told me that they NEVER designed this 
stuff with data traffic in mind. They figured that everyone already has 
a data line, as they need one for VoIP to piggy back on it. The idea of 
putting a dial up modem on a VoIP line, or a fax machine or any of that 
wasn't anywhere in their planning.

For you tech types.. Imagine trying to encapsulate acoustic modem tones 
over a UDP/IP connection? Many of these VoIP lines use UDP, not TCP. UDP 
has no error correction because it's meant for streaming. Things like 
video or voice use UDP, because you never notice a mistaken bit in a 
video file, yet the lack of error correction means a huge overhead cost 
is removed vis a vis TCP/IP. Bottom line on this is you're wrapping an 
acoustic signal in an IP packet that has no error correction. I HAVE 
seen the signals scrambled, even if they worked.. sending occasional 
erroneous signals if their internet service is congested.

Telecom is extremely stupid. All these companies rushing to compete in 
the VoIP market are cheapening the reliability of the technology, even 
if they are adding to the feature base. All the old established telecom 
companies are so foolish that they don't seem to realize that their day 
is done, and their business models will fall down in the next couple 
years if they don't lower their prices to compete! In the middle is 
small guys like me, eternally frustrated due to the record number of 
folks who move to VoIP, never having been told by their VoIP carrier 
that their alarm will not work, (or not work well). Then I get a call 
when their keypad starts beeping due to lack of telephone line.

My irritation and ranting aside, here are my solutions;

Cellular Backup / GSM. Wireless technology. As reliable (if not more) 
than a POTS line. Extra monthly fees, which still work out to be cheaper 
than holding on to a regular phone line. These units typically come with 
their own power backups too. Seriously professional technology.

Internet monitoring is upon us. Most alarm companies I know of are just 
starting to get into this. It's somewhat bleeding edge stuff, despite 
how old IP really is. Expect bugs for early adoption. Every alarm will 
end up with a different type of IP communicator. Some modern alarms can 
be hooked up to IP transmitters that actually speak to the panel itself. 
These are very cool. This means smartphone access, email / sms 
notifications, and all sorts of neat extras. Some IP communicators are 
meant as standalone solutions that will work with any alarm system 
dialer, accepting those signals and properly encoding and encrypting 
them, before sending them to your internet router, and on to an IP 
receiver at the monitoring company. Although there is technically LESS 
overhead on the monitoring company's side to using this technology, 
there is a pain in the butt aspect for alarm companies. Don't be 
surprised if some of them want to charge a little extra per month, as we 
end up becoming network admins any time they factory default their 
routers or start messing with their internet line. Some of these devices 
require port forwarding, static IP addresses and all that. You also have 
to recognize that you have more points of failure now. A phone line gets 
power over the line itself, which works even when there's a power 
outage. To maintain that with an alarm over IP, you want to have power 
backup for your modem, and router. Don't do this at all if you find your 
internet unreliable.

For those who insist on trying their alarm with VoIP systems and see 
success: Insist on daily test signals from your alarm company. Perhaps 
even do some real world tests during peak internet prime time periods. 
Call them up, put your account on test, and send off some burglary 
signals. Call them back afterwards. You ought to see burgs on particular 
zones, restores when those zones close... perhaps cancel codes or 
'openings' when you turn the system off. Depends on how the alarm is 
programmed. Do them a favour and don't test them without warning. That 
takes resources away from real alarms that might need to be dealt with. 
Identical precautions are in order in regards to ensuring your modem and 
router uptime as with IP communicators for alarms.

This is a buyer beware situation, folks. Consider what security is worth 
to you. I know everyone's trying to save a buck these days, and I don't 
blame them, but some can't live without professional alarm monitoring, 
either. Just be cautious, and don't think for a minute that VoIP will 
work as well as a POTS line. If it works at all, be on top of making 
sure it keeps working!

Best of luck.

I offer apologies to any VoIP dealer who may take any offense from my 
posting. I don't mean to suggest your services are crap. This isn't the 
fault of VoIP, its the fault of an incredibly myopic and conservative 
security and telecom industries for not solving this issue years ago. 
Despite my reservations for using it in my line of work, on a personal 
note, I have no home phone line at my own home, and use Magic Jack and 
Net Talk Duo VoIP lines. Only thing I'd like to see from you that might 
improve the situation, is some honesty in some sales people for VoIP 
companies in that they ought to warn about this issue to prospective 

Please note, we will NOThook up an alarm system on VoIP, either existing or new.