Wireless Alarm Systems Vs. Hard Wired Systems

In The Beginning, There were cables.

From the time that human beings first learned to communicate with each other over distances (using electricity) , there was always that strand of copper wire tying the parties together. The telegraph (around 1836’s), the fax machine (1843 yes it’s true see article in Here), the telephone (around 1876), the Internet (ARPANET 1969; See also Al Gore). In the early days, people were crazy for more cabling, because back then, more cabling equaled more communications. It got to be a jungle out there, with some cities that had the sky blocked out by masses of wiring strung pole to pole.

 

Eventually thing began to get better, some wires moved under ground, people learned to send more than one signal per cable, but the wires still remain today.

We are presently moving into a wireless world where in a decade or two, the only physical communication links might be legacy fiber optic truck cables and under sea cables, which will all disappear when satellites be come so numerous (and cheap) that the cost/ benefit out weighs any sort of physical connection.

I mean, what is so great about hardwired connections, both in the security and the communications world? Some people might raise their hand and shout out “security, reliability and integrity’. Lets take a brief look at these ideas and visit some common mis-conceptions concerning wired vs. wireless systems. We’ll stick to ideas that generally concern the installation of security and fire alarm systems, since this is a security blog.

Commonly held beliefs:

  • Hardwired systems are more durable. FACTS: Hardwired systems are more prone to damage than wireless systems. Why? Well, both types have the controller head-end and both have the protection  (contacts etc.) out in the field. The big difference is that wireless systems do not have cabling that can be damaged! If your hardwired system was installed during construction and a mouse chews a wire or a contractor accidentally breaks a wire inside the wall after the construction is complete and the wall is finished, it is often cheaper to replace that point with a wireless one rather than break open the wall to repair the wire. Another concern in some areas is that all of the wiring in an installation acts like a big antenna that could pick up induced currents from other cabling and spread the energy from a lighting strike the the controller and the protection points. Lightning strikes have been known to ‘weld’ the door and window contacts in the closed position, meaning no signal when the door is opened. I have serviced a few of these situation myself, it’s not a myth.
  • Hardwired systems are less expensive. FACTS: The cost ofa hard-wire door contact may be around $2.50, but the labor to install it costs around $85.00 per hour. If the walls are finished (post construction) the labor cost could be steep. A wireless door contact may cost around $45.00, but it takes minutes to install. Think about the cost savings on a job in a finished home with 40 windows and doors (very common, count the windows and door in your home or business, you may be surprised).
  • Hardwired systems are more secure. FACTS: In some types of installations (UL listed vault and safe complete where the wiring is in metal conduit) this may be true, but these are specialty installations and are very expensive due to the nature of the installation methods mandated by Underwriters Laboratory. In the real world of alarm installations, if all of the protection is installed properly (end of line resistors at the end of the circuit, tamper switched actually connected, the easiest part of the system to compromise is the wiring. When a system is dis-armed, you could take a hardwired contact apart, re-wire it to not show an alarm. With a wireless point, the moment you touch the device in any why that tampers with it, an alert and/or an alarm will go off at the keypads and/or send a signal to the central station whether the system is armed or not.
  • Hardwired systems have better integrity. FACTS: Unless you are using an addressable system, the hardwired system is not giving you any feed back about the health or integrity of the system. Wireless system protection points are always checking in to the controller to say things like, I’m here, My battery needs to be replaced in 30 days, etc. You could actually remove a hardwired contact or motion detector and twist the wires together while the system is dis-armed, the system would them arm normally (seem to, anyway). If you try to remove a wireless point, the system knows that the point is missing and will alert and or sound an alarm, the system knows exactly how many points are enrolled and it knows if one goes missing.
  • Hardwire is better for some situations. FACT: Which situations? Honeywell 5800 series wireless equipment is rated by Underwriters Laboratory as suitable for use as primary protection in banks, jewelry stores, commercial installations, schools, hospitals, etc. Wireless smoke detectors are UL listed for installations in schools, day care, museums and other sensitive spaces.

Savvy security dealers who know how to properly sell and install quality wireless equipment are doing their customers several favours. First, reliable and economical installations (I’m not talking about $99.00specials here, I’m talking about quality equipment and quality installation). Second, from a service stand point, it will cost your customer less to repair a wireless installation. The system will tell you where the trouble is, messing around with metering wires, crawling through attics and crawl spaces etc. could be a thing of the past.

Yes, even though it is called a wireless system, there are still wires connecting at least on keypad (the rest can be wireless) and at leat one sire (the rest can be wireless) and there is a power connection also, so, potentially 3 wires. We have even done away with the telephone line connection (way too unreliable and most times not even a real POTS line). Now we use a GPRS radio to communicate to the central monitoring station and to program the alarm control. The connection is encrypted end to end, something telephone line can’t do.

We are currently using what is generally acknowledged as third generation wireless. The system is mature and well developed, my company has thousands of wireless transmitters out there, and those systems are highly stable and require less TLC than our hardwired installation.

In a few years we can look forward to fourth generation wireless products emerging- better range, more diagnostics, 2 way capability etc.

When I am making a sales presentation for a wireless system, I’m comfortable doing it, because I’ve been sold on quality wireless systems for years. Some day, just like the disappearing telephone land lines, we will look back and wonder where the hardwired systems have gone.

I can’t wait!

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