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Wireless Devices are Everywhere

Once unreliable, now part of everyone’s wish list

Wireless devices are everywhere. They are in our homes and offices in the form of mobile smart phones, tablets and personal computers, among other things. Without a doubt, we now rely on wireless technology and devices as part of our everyday life. The same is true in the security industry, where wireless intrusion systems have evolved into an important system for security installers to offer to their residential, as well as small, commercial customers.

Once considered a technology too unreliable to deploy, wireless residential intrusion is as much a part of the vocabulary of today’s residential alarm dealers as RMR or false alarms. Having evolved over the past few years through technology innovations and a gradual change in how that technology is perceived, wireless intrusion is now proving it has what it takes to satisfy the wish lists of installers and end users. Qualities ranging from ease of use, to ease of installation, to reliability and even the ability to integrate with other devices are appealing to all stakeholders.

Overall, the introduction of wireless intrusion systems has greatly simplified the installation process for security systems. At its core, independence from “pulling wire” results in lower installation times and allows security installers to access a larger base of residential customers, when compared to their traditional, hardwired- focused counterparts.

A Bit about Wireless

Wireless technology provides the freedom to mount a device on nearly any wall or ceiling location, which is especially important in older homes and buildings where installing a wired alarm system could involve drilling through stucco walls or concrete cinder blocks. In addition, many wireless intrusion systems offer a quick enrollment installation feature that enables the security dealer to set the keypad in auto-detection mode to discover each device and add it to the system.

Innovations—such as range, battery life, built-in installation tools, signal robustness and reliability—have served to further the use of wireless intrusion in today’s market, making it an integral part of an alarm dealer’s offering.

However, installers have always grappled with a few core issues that can make or break the success of a wireless installation. How this technology has evolved and, along the way, helped to alleviate many of these traditional pain points of wireless installation, is nearly as important for alarm dealers as its future capabilities are.

Tools for Proper Sensor Installation

The location at which a security installer mounts a device is one of the most important aspects of installing a wireless intrusion system, because it can impact that device’s ability to transmit information back to the panel.

Placement testing is one way to ensure the panel can communicate with a particular wireless device, such as a keypad or motion detector. These tests are now as simple as pushing a button while the device is near a specific location, and modern systems now come with LED lighting designed to glow green to affirm mounting location or red if it is not optimal. For installers, this means that device placement can be as simple as walking around with the device in hand and waiting for it to light up. It also helps to lessen the likelihood of future problems, such as the security installer having to return to the property for a service call because the panel stops recognizing the devices all together.

Without this feature, an installer would end up making multiple trips back and forth from the device to the panel to properly set up the sensor, move it to a better location and then retest the system. However, with placement testing, a device with this builtin functionality can remotely recognize whether the signal strength is strong enough to communicate with the control panel.

Another helpful tool for security installers is the capability to quickly enroll a keypad using automatic device discovery features of the panel. In quickenroll mode, the control panel can automatically detect a device, like a keypad, and remotely grab the serial number and type of device. That information is then automatically communicated with the control panel. This feature can greatly reduce the time it would typically take to manually program a system, which would involve correctly entering the serial number of each device into the system without making an error.

Signal Strength and Avoiding Interference

In addition to the mounting location, if a device will be located in a smaller home or in an area with an abundance of radio frequency signals, it is important to understand that additional RF noise can impact the overall range of the wireless device.

WiFi devices can interfere with a wireless security device’s ability to communicate back to the control panel. The alternating current of an electrical box can also interfere with the device, if mounted too close or on top of the box, while the metal surface of the box can alter the characteristics of the antenna on each device, thereby reducing range.

If the placement test indicates that the location is not ideal due to interference, then one option for an installer is to purchase and install a wireless repeater to increase the range and transmission capabilities of the wireless intrusion system. More robust systems available today can offer immunity from interference or drastically reduce noise from other appliances or systems, and improve range, which means an increased distance between panel and sensor without the use of repeaters. In addition, improved protection against signal interference along with increased range is helping to pave adoption in commercial applications.

Some of today’s wireless systems also feature sophisticated, 128-bit, AES encryption to prevent the wireless signal from being “sniffed” or hacked so that the signal cannot be overtaken through the air. This is another huge advantage when considering the overall robustness of wireless technology.

These conveniences can reduce installation time, help avoid system errors and improve profitability on a project.

Know the Environment

Home and small business owners tend to think creatively when installing a security system. While the traditional installation location has typically been inside a main structure, these boundaries have expanded to include additional structures, like pool houses, garden sheds and even garages.

Consider a home owner who might want to install a wireless intrusion system inside his/her garage to protect a luxury automobile, or other possessions. The installer needs to take into account the environmental characteristics of a device and if it is rated for outdoor use.

For example, some devices are not rated to operate in extremely cold environments, where a minimum temperature is not maintained. If a wireless motion detector is not rated for use where the temperature drops to, say, 14 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 Celsius), then it should not be installed in a garage without a heat source.

The same rule of thumb holds true for a wireless window or door contact. If a contact is designed for inside installation only, mounting it on the exterior door of a backyard shed, where it will be exposed to rain and moisture, will eventually impact its ability to function properly, or at all.

Taking Advantage of Improved Range

While the overall range of wireless systems has increased significantly in recent years, adding the ability to cover buildings of several thousand square feet, it is still important to know the range limitation of the specific system you plan to install.

Can the system adequately cover the space of the installation? A wireless intrusion system rated for an area of less than 3,000 square feet, for example, will not be adequate for a 5,000 square-foot home.

Are there interference issues that need to be considered with the placement of PIR sensors? If an installer mounts a PIR sensor and a large picture window is in its field of view, the alarm could potentially sound if someone walks by the window within the range of the sensor. This constant activity can also serve to drain battery life of peripherals very quickly.

Future Opportunities

Finally, understanding peripheral opportunities is important to the success of selling and installing wireless intrusion in the residential market.

One of the biggest demands for wireless products comes from lifestyle sensors, which control energy management, lighting and other home automation functions. These sensors not only satisfy the “cool factor” for end users, but also offer dealers an opportunity to add RMR to their business by selling additional monitoring and service opportunities. Of course, having the most up-to-date cellular communicators, key fobs, and smoke and heat sensors—the core offerings of the wireless life safety portfolio—remains extremely important.

The connected home will play a huge part in wireless technologies. Lighting control, thermostats, and even refrigerators and dishwashers can now be connected to a single management system. This is in addition to elements like wireless door locks, WiFi camera systems and security systems, a trend that will only continue to grow.

Security installers can reap many benefits from offering and installing wireless intrusion systems as part of their security product portfolio. By keeping a few points in mind, installers can ensure an easy installation process and deliver a reliable system to their customers.

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Security Today.

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