The VoIP Freight Train

IP looks to have a profound, long-lasting effect on industry

IP will have a profound and long-lasting effect on the security alarm industry. Although IP architecture has been around for 30-plus years and is the backbone of Internet communications, the use of IP for voice, or VoIP, is a relatively new service offering for traditional telephone carriers.

VoIP is starting to make strong in-roads toward replacing traditional dialtone-based, Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) services. As VoIP services gain acceptance by end users and network providers, they will rapidly replace PSTN as the standard medium for voice-centric communications. IP is making an explosion, and this paradigm shift will have a great impact on the security alarm industry.

Who is Using IP?
Virtually every primary, secondary and alternate carrier is exploring the deployment of IP voice services as a means to lower network costs and expand their respective reach to potential end-using telephone customers. A combination of bandwidth delivery advances and VoIP service improvements have literally blown open the door to the telecommunications market. Everyone from AT&T to local telephone equipment providers is trying to find some avenue to cash in on the versatility of VoIP technology.

Historically, the delivery telephone service to residential and commercial customers has been through an analog-based, circuit-switched network. Strictly regulated and based upon a centralized processing architecture, traditional telephone service carries a representation of the analog signal end to end. For the most part, this type of traditional point-to-point dialtone call is a relatively secured end-to-end service. Centralized switching architecture, while stable and reliable, is not necessarily cost-effective. Government regulation historically ensured that the incumbent telephone providers made money.

VoIP services are based upon a distributed architecture, with the intelligence residing at the network end points. This type of design has allowed network carriers to provide feature-enriched voice services through the VoIP architecture at a significantly lower overhead. Simply stated, low-cost computer technology, standardized operating systems and inexpensive application software, coupled with the universally accepted IP protocol, has opened the door for the VoIP explosion.

In parallel, government deregulation has changed the face of the entire telecommunications landscape, opening the door for non-traditional players and alternate service providers. The modified final judgment (MFJ) in 1983 broke apart AT&T into seven "baby bells," giving rise to the formation of competitive network companies like MCI and setting the stage for the conversion of long-distance voice telephone service into a volume commodity business.

The Telecommunications Act in the mid 1990s unleashed a wholesale assault on the 100-year-long reign of AT&T's long-distance domination, almost immediately impacting the cost of long-distance calls. Another result is the emergence of alternate network carriers, resellers and competitive loop carriers, all wanting a piece of the lucrative communications pie. VoIP is now helping to propagate this trend.

Compounding the pressures of deregulation and cost-effective delivery on the traditional phone companies is the market demand for high-speed Internet service. The high-speed Internet demand has overburdened telephone networks designed primarily to carry voice traffic. In recent years, phone companies have seen the volume of data traffic surpass network voice communications. This shift toward data has prompted all telecommunications providers to rethink their respective market strategies, and the result is the emergence of the Triple Play service.

The ability to deliver to an end-using customer voice, video and data in one package is the holy grail of the new telecommunications industry. In this market, traditional telephone companies are being out-maneuvered by non-traditional communications companies, such as Comcast, Time Warner and Adelphia cable TV companies. These non-traditionals find themselves in the enviable position of having networks that deliver efficient video and, with some tweaking, data. The third piece of the Triple Play -- voice -- became available with the maturation of VoIP. Traditional incumbent phone companies that have controlled the lion share of the end users for the last 100 years now find themselves playing catch-up.

Start Thinking About IP Communications Now

Start Thinking About IP Communications Now

Dense population areas will probably be the first to experience the growth in IP services. But there will be no area of the global market that will not experience some impact of the impending IP explosion.

All communications providers -- whether incumbent, alternative or other -- are already talking to, calling, e-mailing and advertising to alarm customers. There aren't many security alarm companies that have not felt the impact of a customer switching to VoIP, disconnecting their PSTN phone line and disabling their alarm system communications.

To make matters worse, customer deployment of VoIP service is not the only issue. Many carriers are using VoIP within their network architecture. This problem is usually identified when an alarm company starts losing large blocks of customer alarm signals from a specific geographic region.

The incumbent telephone companies, the "baby bells" and their evolved counterparts, such as the "new AT&T," are responding in the only way they can: with the development and deployment of new bandwidth architectures that can deliver the Triple Play services. All are considering or actively pursuing some new broadband premises delivery strategy.

  • Verizon is moving toward Fiber to the Curb (FTTC).

  • Qwest is moving toward Fiber to the Home (FTTH).

  • Bellsouth is planning VDSL2 (Very High-Speed DSL).

All are planning or have implemented some level of VoIP overlay architecture. Non-traditional carriers already are aggressively pursuing VoIP strategies -- Vonage, Skype, Packet8 and AT&T's CallVantage services are being actively marketed and sold into consumer and enterprise markets. It is becoming quite clear that VoIP will become the inevitable replacement for the traditional PSTN network.

What Will be the Impact on the Security Alarm Industry?
The security alarm industry must face the fact that communication architectures are changing and IP communication is swiftly altering the face of all interconnected communications companies. More importantly, the security alarm industry must understand that there is a distinct difference between an unsecured VoIP voice transmission and secured IP data communications.

VoIP is a volatile medium when used in conjunction with a security alarm dialer. When a digital dialer communicates through a traditional phone service, there is some level of comfort that the connection between the alarm dialer and the monitoring station receiver is secure. Even though it is a switched-based analog service, it is still very difficult to intercept or alter the transmission. Granted, dialer services over traditional phone service have issues, including passive monitoring architectures and single path vulnerability. However, the security of the communication has never been called into question.

VoIP, on the other hand, opens up a new realm of issues for security dialers attempting to send signals. Primarily, most alarm dialers do not work with most VoIP services. This is attributed to the technical design of the security alarm dialer. Occasionally, a VoIP service will support a security dialer. However, because of the dynamic nature of the VoIP network, what is working today may not necessarily work tomorrow.

Also to be considered, VoIP units do not have backup power, a critical feature that causes the communication path to be interrupted in the event of a commercial power failure on a customer's premise. In the event of a VoIP network failure where local commercial power has not been interrupted, a VoIP interface will continue to provide the alarm panel dialer with a simulated dialtone, spoofing the panel into believing dialtone service is still available and counteracting any backup communications architectures.

Even if all of the above issues could be resolved, alarm signals sent over a VoIP service are susceptible to all of the maladies found today in unsecured Internet communications -- denial-of-service attacks, redirection of signal and IP spoofing, to name a few. At this time, no high-security services have been certified using VoIP service as a security transmission medium.

But not all of the news is bad. IP data communication can be extremely secure, more so than any traditional phone service. With so many companies in the security industry pursuing the development of IP security alarm data solutions, new products and services are starting to become more readily available to the security alarm industry.

Secured IP communication generally involves the establishment of an encrypted end-to-end pathway between the customer's premise and the monitoring alarm center. There are many manufacturers that offer equipment and service solutions that take advantage of IP communications. The key items to look for:

  • End-to-end encryption, 128 bit or greater (UL standard).

  • Backup communication pathways -- digital wireless is probably the most effective.

  • Frequently scheduled polling that actively verifies alarm panel connection and communication.

  • Multiple application support -- IP opens up the door for the transmission of simultaneous video and video alarm event verification.

Some carriers are even offering their IP data customers "class of service" options -- pathways that provide a guaranteed bandwidth access for the data at all times. Whereas VoIP could be considered a notch below traditional security alarm dialer services, IP data communications, if well designed and implemented, can be far superior.

Why is This Happening?
It is progress. With progress comes pain and opportunity. IP communications shows the promise of revolutionizing the security alarm industry. A bandwidth pathway to the customer's premise opens up the opportunity to provide new services to the customer, new services that will equate to new revenues.

The explosion of IP communications also will open up new pathways for an industry that is experienced in the installation and servicing of low-voltage equipment on a customer's premise. The industry has already moved past the early adoption stage of IP/VoIP communications and is swiftly moving into main-stream acceptance. Security alarm companies that prepare for this paradigm shift will ensure their prosperity in the coming new era.

VoIP is barreling down upon the security alarm industry like a freight train. Will you be prepared and jump aboard, or will you be run over?


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