Qualities Of The Latest, Greatest Alarm Panels
What are the underlying qualities of the best modern alarm panels – are they things like device agnostic comms, cloud functionality, integration, automation, app management? Or are qualities like ease of programming and user operation still vital to installers and their customers?
WHAT are the qualities of the greatest modern alarm panels? There’s plenty to consider and the answer is not cut and dried. For a start, you want a system that’s flexible enough to meet the needs of a wide range of users – homeowners as well as SMEs. That word ‘flexible’ is a big one. The system needs to offer alarm, automation and video verification capability – perhaps even live video monitoring. The ability to support door control is a big deal, too, especially if there’s a video intercom that can be accessed via an app or web browser from anywhere in the world.
You can appreciate that words like ‘wireless’ are hard to pin down. In modern systems this might mean Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, ZigBee, BlueTooth, 433 or 866mHz, as well as spread spectrum devices – and that’s on the system side. On the monitoring station and customer side wireless means 3G, 4G and 5G – the best solutions aren’t going to use just one comms path for monitoring, so there’s that to consider.
Sensors are an increasingly mixed bag these days. There are internal and external PIRs and dual technology sensors but there’s a swag more – smoke, flood, glass break, reeds, vibration sensors, long range sensors – as well as an ecosystem of automation sensors, and controllers from hundreds of manufacturers.
Managing systems with this much scope is challenging and demands a quality app supported by excellent infrastructure. SEN has long experience with the Alarm.com app and browser and rates these highly, but there are other solutions out there. For installers, partnering with a hardware provider that is partnered with a quality management solutions provider will be key. It’s the app and the browser through which most customers will interact with their security solutions.
Quality alarm panels and their keypads and sensors are well built and give the customers plenty of options – think the Risco ecosystem or Qolsys – both these solutions are deep and wide, with affordable sensors and higher end gear for rugged applications. They have a long lifespan and if wireless, they are easy on device batteries without falling short on device health polling.
According to BGW Technologies Stanley El Komala, the underlying qualities of the best modern alarm panels are installer and customer focused.
“A quality alarm system must be easy to install and programme, easy to explain to end users, have scalability, be a hybrid system (either hardwired or wireless), offer a large selection of optional extras, including keypads, wireless devices, communicators, home automation devices, visual/video verification modules, etc, and have PSTN, IP and cloud-based communications paths,” El Komala explains.
“Today’s desirable features include being able to integrate for expansion (scalable) to accept video doorbells, voice control (Google Home and Amazon Alexa), smart home capabilities (locks, thermostat, garage doors, lights, audio) and cameras,” he says.
“With all these devices; you could create scenes, schedules and notifications based on requirements, with everything viewable and controllable on a smart phone app. Visual verification will be a plus for the alarm system, especially for self-monitoring-type installation. With visual or video verification, this will help determine if a real incident is occuring.”
El Komala agrees homeowners and SME’s buy different solutions to larger commercial applications.
“The requirements are different,” he explains. “Homeowners buy systems driven by consumer market products; while SME/commercial applications are driven by their applications – this might include intrusion, access control and CCTV. Home automation and app management are the big homeowner requirements, while SME/commercial requirements include scalability and simplicity.
“When it comes to system type, we see the demand for both solid-state (tin can type) alarm panels and hub-based systems (all in one type) still growing; especially the hub-based. Hybrid solutions are the most attractive, when it comes to our customers.”
How hard is it in the modern world to ensure that alarm and automation solutions are cyber secure, according to El Komala?
“Firstly, installers need to select products that offer encrypted communications from front end to back end (ie, DSC Neo, which offers 128-bit AES encryption from the wireless devices, panel, communicator, with Z-Wave Plus technology for smart home automation,” he says. “This also offers 128-bit AES encryption). Installers also need to ensure the network and hardware alarm products connect to or sit on, are secure, and adequate password protections are used by the SI and the end user.
“When it comes to 5G, we don’t see any threats, just an opportunity to provide more value and benefits to the customers. With current technology, 3G and 4G devices can handle alarm communications. Packets of data sent from alarm panels are small, requiring little bandwidth for transmission. Even video is pretty good over 4G. But if there are more devices, like video cameras, added into the alarm system, then the bandwidth requirements will grow. The requirement for more bandwidth and more speed will determine what technology will be used. For monitoring station communications, 4G/IP Ethernet is the ideal combination.”
According to El Komala, DIY alarm systems offer fewer features than standard alarm systems and their functionality and design are often driven by low price.
“Some of the DIY products have limited types of sensors and they might not be specific to the application required. Some of them might not have any encryption at all,” he explains. “Most people end up disappointed with DIY security once they finally have a professional system installed by a security professional.
“Regardless, the DIY market is very big market in Australia, and growing in the global alarm market as well. Most of these solutions are basic products that will suit basic applications and will secure homes/premises in a substandard way. For the best results, the alarm system should be installed by professional installers (licensed security installer).”
In an era where alarm and automation systems are increasingly cloud-based, how important is it that security providers and their partners are utterly trustworthy when it comes to collection of household data?
“This is terribly important because the data collection can include things such as location, unit description, home or business system configuration, sensor names, appliances or other devices monitored, account information, schedule, mode, automation settings, device settings and monitoring people coming and going and moving around a home or business) in order for the service provider be able to personalize your services,” El Komala says.
When it comes to wireless alarm panels and devices, what’s the most useful – 433, 866, Z-Wave, ZigBee, something else, or all of the above?
“In Australia, we are following the ACMA,” El Komala explains. “We use wireless alarm detectors on 433-434MHz and Z-Wave on 921.42 Mhz. Alarm panels with capabilities to accept many other frequencies for devices is bonus (ie, Qolsys IQ Panel 2 has 433Mhz, Z-Wave 921.42 Mhz, Bluetooth LE 4.0, Wi-Fi dual band, image sensor 919MHz, 4G LTE bands). Importantly, not all wireless gear is created equal and this is why DSC Power G is a stand out solution due to its range or devices, wireless transmission distance, power management, 2-way intelligence and excellent encryption.”
El Komala says BGW Technologies sells DSC and Qolsys alarm systems because they cover a wide variety of customer needs.
“The DSC Neo continues to grow nicely and is our biggest seller because of its hybrid nature, excellent Power G Wireless detector range and brilliant integration with Alarm.com,” El Komala says. “The Qolsys solution is growing at the fastest rate due to its all in one tablet style looks, brilliant user options, wide DSC wireless device range, smart home features (Zwave, wifi, Bluetooth) and seamless integration to Alarm.com.”
According to Andrew Gray – vendor manager security, Hills, there are 2 vital underlying qualities to a modern alarm panel – the first is installer functionality.
“Ease of programming and fast installation are what guides an SI to their preferred alarm panel,” Gray argues. “The second quality is customer wants and needs, which these days are app functionality and the alibility to at the touch of a button find out the status of their system.”
Key features of great alarm panels in the past were 8-16 zones, a touch screen display, area arming and a couple of doors of access control. What features are most important to users now, according to Gray? Video doorbells, voice control, locks, cameras, etc?
“8-16 zone alarm panels were a big step forward many years ago, but we are now moving towards total integration of the alarm system, delivering complete control of the home, including CCTV, home automation, video intercom, air conditioning, watering systems and lighting,” says Gray.
“End users these days are doing more research into the wants and needs that suit their requirements and this research is giving them the information to make choices that suit them.”
Does Gray think the solid-state alarm panel has had its day and that hub-based systems are the way of the future? Or are hybrid alarm solutions the best option?
“In the short term I still see the solid-state alarm system having its place but as the population grows older and the next generation comes through we will see the change due to generational growth,” Gray explains.
Gray agrees that some of the DIY alarm systems sold to consumers lack the robustness and functionality of traditional systems and sensors, as well as lacking the functionality and security of the latest network-facing alarm panels.
“Don’t get me started why we have security licences and must comply with the government rules when retail companies get away with selling and giving expert advice without having to comply,” he says.
“To ensure their solutions and services remain a cut above, installers need to get better support from industry bodies to ensure DIY solutions comply with the licensing regulations that the installer must follow.”
Gray argues it’s important in an era where alarm and automation systems are increasingly cloud-based that security providers and their partners are utterly trustworthy when it comes to collection of household data.
“Regarding the collection of data there is always going to be a threat – monitoring services providers that installers partner with need to have the latest cyber protection in place.”
Where does Gray stand on wired vs wireless alarm sensors and peripherals like internal and external sirens and secondary keypads? What’s best in homes and would you recommend something else for commercial applications?
“With the onset of wireless networks and growth of better wireless systems in domestic setting I see wireless security systems taking over the hardwired systems allowing the installer to meet the needs and requirements of the homeowner in a timely manner,” Gray argues.
“In our experience, hardwired solutions are still ahead, however, wireless solutions are growing quickly, thanks to the cost-effectiveness of wireless home automation.”
For Nick Zhao, product specialist at Hikvision, the underlying qualities of the best modern alarm panels are video verification, cloud functionality and app management.
He also argues that solid state alarm panels have had their day.
“Hub-based systems are the way of the future for the domestic market,” Zhao says. “As you can see, in many other countries like UK, EU, hub-based systems are becoming more and more popular. Hub-based systems are normally easier to program, are nicely designed and are easier to use.”
When it comes to the perfect alarm monitoring communications path combination for a quality alarm system, Zhao argues IP reporting with a 4G back up system is the way of the future.
“A dual-SIM card designed system will be a good option to build a solid communication path with control room,” he explains. “Something else that’s a key requirement now is video verification. The captured image or video needs to be clear, at least 720p. And the captured image or video needs to be uploaded to app without too much delay so end users can check what happened when there is an alarm event.”
Zhao says commercial applications will continue to favour wired alarm solutions, but he says wireless is increasingly popular in the domestic alarms market.
“Transmission distance and battery life are very important for wireless alarm systems,” he says.