Alarm communications have evolved, especially over the past decade, and one of the most relevant changes is the ongoing push to communicate using Internet protocol. Many have found cost and efficiencies when using IP for more than just voice communications, which is further propelling the growth of IP.

According to Dirk von Richthofen, Fire-Lite Alarms’ director of engineering, a host of telecommunications providers have begun to deviate from copper wire over the last two to three years. Today’s phone and cable companies offer subscribers television and voice services over fiber cabling, thereby making plain old telephone service (POTS) lines increasingly obsolete. POTS lines are the traditional wire run to poles then to phone stations and supported by piles of battery backup.

An increased use of fiber means most transmissions are digital instead of traditional analog. One problem is that many devices operate off only an analog signal, and therefore, service providers have provided users with boxes that convert the signal from digital to analog within the building so that attached devices can continue to operate and communicate. While this patch may work for some situations, it is not always the most prudent solution, since the converted signal is only as good as the converter. Other service issues, such as periodic reprogramming of converter boxes and downed lines, have pushed many to monitor fire alarms over IP.

With the potential for downtime and faults on the service providers’ end, more fire panels are coming up with fault and error messages, and most can be traced back to originating phone line issues.

Central station equipment can help make the transition to IP easier and more efficient, and some products can convert the alarm signal to IP at the fire panel. One product helping to bridge that gap is Fire-Lite’s IP digital alarm communicator transmitter (IPDACT).

Cost savings is another benefit, von Richthofen said. Traditionally, fire alarm systems require one dedicated phone line and a second shared line for monitoring operations. With IP, users can eliminate extra phone lines by adding the IP card, saving the users a phone line charge. Given the IPDACT’s multiplexed listing from UL, only one IP connection is required, totally eliminating the need for any phone lines. That immediate cost savings is sometimes enough to motivate end-users to transition to fire over IP.

“When you go with an IP connection, you save money right away,” von Richthofen said.

The low cost of adding the card can be recovered within three months strictly by eliminating the cost for two phone lines. It also extends the life of the user’s current system without doing a total system refresh.

While IPDACTs are relatively simple to install, von Richthofen does not recommended that end-users attempt to install them. He said either the original fire alarm installer or contractor should install them.

“In the past, contractors had been pulling the wire but paying someone else to put the panel in and configure it. Today, the fire alarm installer and contractor are increasingly becoming one in the same,” he said.

IP cards also increase maintenance abilities of installers or contractors. Some of the newer benefits associated with Fire-Lite’s IPDACT-UD—not currently released but on its way very soon—include the ability to remotely upload and download system information. Those doing maintenance benefit, since monitoring and adjustments can easily be made from anywhere, which saves the expense of sending technicians to the site.

While companies besides Fire-Lite offer IP cards, the latest iteration with the upload/download ability will be the first and only one of its kind with such abilities, according to von Richthofen.

IP continues to be viable in many scenarios and is a proven cost saver. New products are once again proving that Internet protocol can be a relevant transport medium for more than just voice communications and Web traffic.

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.