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Upgrade Your Fire Alarms with IP Reliability

Feb. 21, 2012
Upgrade your fire alarms to the new standard with IP communications and watch analog telephone lines become a thing of the past.

As traditional phone lines fall by the wayside, digital systems such as Voice over IP (VoIP), GSM cellular networks, and fiber optics are taking their place. But if your fire alarm communications still depend on outdated phone lines, your system’s reliability is being sacrificed.

The solution is to upgrade to an IP or GSM communicator, which uses either digital or cell phone communications to connect to the central station. The hybrid transceiver sends out alarms and confirms alerts and tests.

Rodger Reiswig, SimplexGrinnell’s director of industry relations, and Gene Pecora, marketing director for Honeywell Fire Systems, discuss the benefits of upgrading your fire alarm communications.

BUILDINGS: What are the benefits of IP/GSM communicators?
Reiswig: Traditional phone lines are simply going away. This is really driving the industry to migrate to new technologies for fire alarms. With an old phone modem, you have to supervise and check the phone lines every 24 hours. With IP or GSM, checks are done every few minutes and events are sent out instantaneously.

Pecora: Before you had points along the communication path that were monitored. Now if you have a problem, you may not know about it. With IP or GSM, you have two alternative paths. Each one can carry the signal, but when you put them together, you have the power of redundancy.

Reiswig: We’re also able to transfer more information to the remote station. Not only can it communicate that an alarm went off, but that the alarm is on the third floor in the electrical room. The firefighting community is also looking for this information so they can tailor their response better.

BUILDINGS: How will upgrading to a communicator save money?
Pecora: If you look at how much it costs to have a dedicated phone line for each fire alarm control panel, it’s around $50 per month. In a large facility with multiple control panels, the cost of phone lines really starts to add up. That’s also a cost you may not be able or willing to pass on to tenants. Switching to a communicator will permanently eliminate those lines.

Reiswig: The initial costs for the equipment can range from $400 to $800. By the time you add several hours for installation, you can safely budget $1,000 for the upgrade. When you factor in the cost of the phone lines though, your payback is typically less than a year.

BUILDINGS: Is there any preparation before installation?
Pecora: First talk to your fire alarm provider and express interest in an IP/GMS unit. Each installation will be different. The great thing is that the communicator is simply added to your existing alarm panel. You're not ripping out wiring or replacing the fire alarm system.

Reiswig: You also need to keep your IT department in the loop. Many manufacturers have an installation sheet ready to give to IT because you’re involving IP addresses, a gateway, and system programming. You’re using their infrastructure so it’s a two-way street. They also need to ensure that upgrades or planned outages won’t interfere with the fire alarms.

BUILDINGS: Are there any downsides?
Pecora: There’s a common misconception that the communicator will eat up a lot of bandwidth. But the fire alarm test messages are very small in size, approximately 50 bytes.

Reiswig: It’s like sending out an email with a few lines of text. It may be every few minutes, but it’s a minuscule amount of data. We’re not sending large files, photos, or videos so the traffic won’t affect the bandwidth at all.Pecora: Make sure that the communicator has AES-256k encryption, even though you’re at a higher risk for someone physically cutting the phone lines than a hacking attempt. This is the same Internet standard that banks use for transferring money and will put your IT people at ease.

Jennie Morton ([email protected]) is associate editor of BUILDINGS.

About the Author

Jennie Morton

A former BUILDINGS editor, Jennie Morton is a freelance writer specializing in commercial architecture, IoT and proptech.

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