Wireless alarm panels and sensors have a tendency to ubiquity that belies their underlying functionality. Thoughtfully installed, they can offer excellent coverage in a range of applications, from residential to high security and their offer fast installation and relatively low installed cost per zone.
WHILE many low cost smart home and self-monitored alarm systems make use of wireless technologies to link sensors to controllers, it’s a mistake to imagine that wireless is the domain of low end solutions. There are quality alarm systems in this space, many with functionalities that include video verification, access control and automation, as well as the more common intrusion detection.
According to Wayne Trethown, general manager of Consolidated Security Merchants, an excellent wireless alarm system should be easy to configure, easy to use, provide reliable and secure communications between wireless devices, good wireless range, long battery life and provide a user-friendly interface, such as a smart phone app.
“From our current offering, features and functions such as Z-Wave, Zigbee, video, cloud services and remote management are already provided,” Trethowan says. “The smart phone apps also provide a single, user friendly platform for end-users to interact with the system and its peripheral devices and features. This type of integration will continue to expand as technology allows. End users are certainly embracing these advanced functions. We see the trends and feature requests being driven by both installers and the broader consumer community. Installers are at the coal-face and will often receive valuable feedback and suggestions from their prospective customers.
“The core advantage of wireless alarm panels is ease of installation thanks to no cables so systems are easily expanded and are relocatable,” Trethowan says. “There are some things to take into account with wireless, apart from normal alarm system best practices with regards to location of sensors for optimum catch performance and reduction of false alarm occurrences, installers should ensure that the devices are located within wireless range of the control panel/receiver to ensure reliable wireless communications.
Trethowan argues we have reached a point where battery life is a non-issue with medium and larger systems, with battery life measured in many years.
“Most quality wireless alarm systems now provide device battery lifespans in a number of years,” he explains. “As both system and battery technology advances, these periods will increase even further.”
Trethowan concedes there are still some installers and end users who are not confident in wireless alarm system technology.
“There are also applications, whether they be commercial and industrial or integrated systems with access control, CCTV and automation integration where wired solutions will remain as the only option,” he says. “Wired systems also negate the need for battery replacement, being mindful of a restricted wireless range and are basically an install and forget solution. Wired systems may not necessarily be only a local or monitoring station solution. Many can also provide personal monitoring facilities using voice, SMS, email and push notifications and allow control by the same methods.”
At CSD, product manager intrusion, Paul Knight, says the company carries a full suite of wireless products, including sirens, repeaters, keypads and all your standard detection devices. It should also have home automation options like Z-Wave and Wi-Fi cameras for a complete integrated wireless offering.
“Speed of installation and the ability for proper device placement due to no cable restrictions is the big advantage with wireless and battery life continues to expand thanks to more efficient circuitry,” Knight says. “There are obviously things that need to be taken into consideration during installation to ensure best performance. There a lot of things that affect wireless performance, from different types of construction materials to signal reflection. Good wireless systems have tools like field strength signal meters that installers should use for correct device placement.”
When it comes to trends in wireless alarm systems – Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, video, cloud services, remote management, automation options – Knight is circumspect about where the market going, recognising these are relatively early days for many technologies.
“Its early days in Australia and it’s an education process for both consumers and integrators,” Knight explains. “However, feedback I have received from the market is that most consumers are now looking for a fully connected home solution. There will always be room for a traditional security system, however, the domestic market in particular is certainly evolving.”
At EOS Australia Normann Wee, strategic business development managers, says wireless alarms, as well as wireless technology as a whole, have come a long way.
“Top qualities that a wireless alarm system should have include excellent reliable wireless range, strong wireless encryption, home automation technologies such as Z-Wave, Zigbee and Thread, easy pairing and installation of panel and devices, multiple communications paths, including Ethernet, 3G, WiFi; and finally, interactive control via app or web browsers with real-time push notifications and remote arming/disarming,” Wee says.
“Wireless certainly has many advantages for installers, as well as for end users. Quick and easy installation anywhere around the house without the need for cabling, wireless devices eliminate the risk of cable tampering, easy troubleshooting to identify which part of the system is at fault, wireless alarm systems provide end-users the flexible and versatility to move security sensors around their property at any time based on changing needs and consumer investment into the hardware is not lost because devices can easily be removed and reinstalled when moving properties.”
From the point of view of wireless installation, Wee says there are a number of things integrators need to take into account.
“The construction and size of the building – brick, double brick and pre-fab concrete will affect wireless range,” he explains. “Where are you mounting the sensors? Avoid mounting them on metal frames that will limit your wireless range and be sure to test wireless range in the desired device locations prior to installation. Further, if your wireless alarm panel is only communicating via internet, I’d recommend a UPS for the modem to maintain connection during blackouts – the location of the wireless alarm panel hub will play an important role for wireless range – what’s convenient for the hub, may not be best for sensor comms.”
Wee is thoughtful when it comes to battery life.
“Even with battery technology now going the distance in providing consistent power and also available in all sorts of small form factors, battery life will still be a small pain-point on security sensors that are in frequent use,” he explains. “Take for example a Resolution product nanomax micro door/window reed switch, which is rated for 6+ years. The battery life measurement is based on the reed opening and closing 16 times a day to obtain the 6+ year rating. But if we were to place this on a heavily used door that is opened and closed hundreds of times a day, battery life span will dramatically reduce. Regardless, the ease of installation of wireless alarm sensors means changing the battery will not be much of a hassle as systems now are smart enough to trigger low battery notifications allowing enough time for the installer, or in some cases the end user, to swiftly change the battery.”
According to Wee, there’s a lot going on in the wireless alarms market.
“Wireless alarm systems are now much more than just security,” he explains. “Consumers are driving the market and demanding a connected home/building solution with interactive services. The expectations of consumers are ease of use, secure comms, flexibility, customisation and fast access to their system 24/7 from anywhere in the world. In my opinion, the market and solutions offered must be interactive and fit into consumers lives.
“The market will continue to grow in this space as manufacturers of any product/devices will become iOT enabled. The key is having a platform that is future ready for integration with any of these devices and controlling it through their smartphone or devices. In my opinion, the demand driven from consumers will require these key elements: Interactive services via app, secure encrypted sensors, fast 24/7 access, home automation ecosystem using Z-Wave, Zig-Bee or Thread and live/recorded video that is accessible anywhere, anytime.
“Further to this, many manufacturers within the home automation marketplace are now releasing smart hubs with mixtures of product solutions (including security sensors) that will seep into the security space,” Wee says. “Take Samsung SmartThings, for example. It’s a smart hub with Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Z-Wave and ethernet connectivity that can have a combination of up to 400 devices. Wireless PIR, reed, outdoor siren and camera complete the package for consumers to start building and automating connected devices.
“But how secure is this smart hub? Security installers need a wireless alarm offering that is far more secure and flexible compared to such smart hubs. In my opinion, smart alarm products for installers should be fast and easy to install, have intuitive interfaces that are easy for the end user to use and represent a flexible and customisable solution that can adapt into users’ lives.”
Wee argues traditional hardwired alarm panels managed on site and reporting only to a monitoring station need to evolve to ensure their future in the marketplace.
“Traditional hardwired alarm panels need to evolve into a better product offering,” he says. “There is a whole suite of basic home automation smart hubs available in the marketplace which offer the users security (not very secure) automation and more, that’s already a big step in front of traditional hardwired offerings of just arming and disarming.
“Resolution Products’ Interactive Gateway Module (IGM) is an innovative communication module with Z-Wave onboard enabling existing or new installations to be smart home/building ready with full interactive services that wires into compatible panels like Paradox MG5050, DSC PowerSeries, Honeywell Vista and NX, allowing installers to bridge the gap.”
Risco’s Peter Mellino says the company is one of the pioneers of wireless intrusion detection and has expanded its product offerings to include access control, automation and most importantly, video verification.
“Risco has developed an excellent range of 2-way wireless products,” Mellino says. “All our devices can communicate back to each other, are fully supervised, whatever is going on in a system, we know what's happening instantly. The ecosystem is very complete and I think that’s something installers need to take into account. Our Agility wireless product is a full wireless system with a very, very, large array of wireless products that support and enhance its functionality – from satellite sirens, to PIR cameras, to smoke detectors, to wireless keypads and IP-rated keypads, and even external AIRs beams and dual technology sensors.
“Programming everything is all seamless. Very, very, simple and easy. Where installers and end users need to be thinking is that next step in the intrusion space – video verification of alarm events. This is a functionality we've integrated into all of our panels. Wireless IP cameras – that's probably the part I enjoy the most because it resolves an issue intrusion detection people, monitoring people and operational security managers have battled with for decades.
“Now, due to the architecture of solutions like Risco, these issues are resolves. Being cloud-based, we can get panel’s alarm signals and link them to footage from a camera. In the background we’ll say, "Right, if that input goes off, trigger that IP camera and take this number snapshots for verification." We do that seamlessly in the cloud.
“Physically, the alarm panel on the camera don't connect. Hardware wise they don't connect. They connect in a cloud, which gives us total power to then pass those events to monitoring stations or authorised users. At Risco our product philosophy, our design philosophy, is to drive solutions using integration in the cloud things to the cloud.”
According to Mellino, one of the beauties of Risco is the fact its detectors go all the way from residential to industrial, wireless and hardwired. There are Xtreme dual technology sensors, PIRs, AIRS beams, reed switches and loads more, all with high levels of engineering and all supported by Risco’s family of controllers.
“We’ve been building alarm systems for a long time and we’ve been making excellent detectors for a long time and we now combine this engineering excellence with our own proprietary, high security cloud service,” he says. “It’s a range that ticks all the boxes for installers and end users – domestic, commercial or industrial.” ♦