Every so often, we are asked about the compatibility of home security systems with VoIP phone service. As it has been a while since we researched and evaluated this topic, we felt it was time to offer some updated insight into this issue that homeowners with security systems often face. At time of writing, we are approaching 2014, so we were excited and optimistic to find out what had changed over the years, as VoIP has now matured into the most popular phone solution for homeowners. Our expectations were high and we expected to find out about how these different home services were now seamlessly integrated with each other. Read on to find out where things actually stand today.
Let us know if you have experience dealing with VoIP and a home alarm system by adding a comment. Also let us know if you have questions and we will try to help.
The Key Question - Can VoIP phone service and a Home Security System work together?
The short answer to this question, is MAYBE! The alarm service may work correctly with VoIP most of the time, but it is unlikely going to be 100% reliable for the following reasons:
- Most VoIP providers clearly state that home alarms should not be used with their phone service. A quick search of support pages, or the terms and conditions of service, for companies such as Vonage, Phone Power and VoIPo will clearly state that they make no guarantees on alarm system functionality, and that alarm companies should be consulted to discuss recommended options. Also remember that with VoIP, if the Internet goes down, then the phone service goes down.
- Issues transmitting alarm system tones over a VoIP line? Most alarm systems are still using DTMF (Dual Tone Multi Frequency) tones to communicate with a central station or alarm monitoring center. These signals are often interpreted by a monitoring system that measures the time between signals, and uses that information as one of the variables when determining what type of alarm signal has been received. The pitch of the signal tones that are received must also be consistent with the transmitted signals. As VoIP is converting these signals into digital packets and then compressing the packet prior to transmission, the uncompressed packets that are received at the alarm companies central station may not be reproduced consistently. For alarm systems, these signals must be transmitted and received perfectly, every time.
- If power goes out, your phone line goes down along with your alarm. As VoIP requires a constant source of power to operate, the phone line will go down if there is a power outage. If a home security system is using the phone line to communicate with the central station, the alarm also becomes non-functioning when the power goes down. This particular issue can of course be easily mitigated with the use of an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for backup power to the phone adapter (ATA), but this device will cost you upwards of $50 or more.
- Potential line seizure issues. When an alarm is active, the phone line is seized by the alarm system. For this to function correctly, the incoming phone line needs to be connected to the alarm control unit before it is connected to any phones. It operates as a signal pass through the majority of the time, but when an alarm goes off, the unit can then seize the phone line. In theory, VoIP should work for this requirement most of the time, but if the receiver is already off-hook, it is unlikely that the line can be seized. This wiring could be challenging for VoIP as (a) you need to somehow run a cable between your ATA, alarm control and your phone base station, or (b) if you have pre-installed alarm wiring behind the walls, you will need to perform some re-wiring at the outside phone demarcation point, basically disconnecting the incoming phone line that was going to the alarm. After doing that, you will still need to run a cable from the ATA to alarm control and should then be able to plug phones into house wiring. There are a few different scenarios to consider and it can potentially get complicated and somewhat messy. Hopefully you get a feel for what the potential issues are with phone line seizure and VoIP. The exact wiring you need for this should be discussed with your alarm system company and is outside the scope of this document.
In summary, alarm monitoring transmissions are mission critical, safety signals that can impact both life and property, and VoIP lines were never designed to carry these types of signals reliably. As such, VoIP companies do not recommend using a VoIP phone line for this purpose as they do not want to be exposed to any form of liability for an alarm failure. If you are still considering using your VoIP phone line for this purpose, you should first check with both your alarm company and insurance company for approval.
Pro's and Con's of different Home Alarm Monitoring Options.
Let's be 100% clear here though, we do still recommend that you use VoIP for your home phone service as it is the most cost effective and feature rich service available by far. What that means for your home alarm system though is that you need to find a better and more reliable way for the system to communicate with the remote monitoring service.
|Alarm Monitoring Options||Pro's||Con's|
|Use a landline (traditional telephone service)||1. Traditional method of communication that is reliable and supported by most alarm companies.||
1. Creates an additional cost for the monthly line rental.
2. If someone is going to break in to your home, there is a good chance they will cut your phone line prior to entry to disable your alarm.
|Use the Internet(Install an Alarm Broadband Network (ABN) or Broadband Alarm Transmitter (BAT)||
1. This takes your phone line out of the equation and creates a
connection to the monitoring center. Quality of Service (QoS)
must be configured on your home network to prioritize traffic
from this device.
2. With some Alarm service company plans, no additional equipment is required and the main alarm control simply plugs into your home router.
3. No phone line required.
1. Service is dependant on the reliability of your Internet
2. Must have capability of enabling traffic prioritization (QoS) on home network.
3. Cable can be cut by an intruder to disable alarm system.
4. Not every home security company supports this option.
5. Alarm companies typically charge more than a service plan that uses a landline. However, a true comparison must take into account the actual cost of a landline.
6. UPS required to mitigate power outages.
|Use cellular communication||1. A
cellular line cannot be cut by an intruder.
2. Reliable and consistent communication method.
3. Alarm company technology is trending in this direction to eliminate system vulnerabilities.
4. No phone line required
Monthly service rates can be more expensive than using other
2. Not every alarm company offers this option.
3. Need to have good and consistent cellular signal strength.
|Use a VoIP service that is a qualified MFVN (Managed Facility Voice Network. These are cable operators or phone companies that own the actual network and are interconnected with the PSTN. Examples are Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner and Comcast)||1. Some
alarm companies, such as ADT, state that they support these
phone services for monitoring signals.
2. Can result in lower cost Alarm service as removes need for Internet or Cellular monitoring.
cost of phone service from cable operators or phone companies is
typically much higher than any traditional VoIP offering such as
2. Alarm companies will likely recommend having a backup monitoring method to ensure uptime.
3. UPS required but typically supplied by provider.
Note: Please visit our residential VoIP section to compare the most popular home phone services.
A phone related alarm feature that is worth mentioning is a mobile app. These are offered by some alarm companies with some of the more premium plans. The apps are well worth any extra expense as they enable you to manage your alarm system when you are away from home. With mobile tracking on your Smartphone, you can even skip the monitoring service offered by the alarm company, but you will need to call the police yourself if you get an alert.
Is VoIP still a good option for home phone service - What are the costs?
At this point you are probably asking yourself if VoIP is going to be additional cost and will it create problems if you have a home alarm system (or are thinking of getting one). As such, let's assume your home VoIP service is kept completely separate from the home security system and evaluate some of the ballpark costs. Alarm system costs have been taken from the Protect America bronze plans.
|Service Types||Avoid VoIP altogether.keep your landline and use it with your alarm system.||Use MFVN qualified VoIP service from cable company, plus a landline based alarm service monitoring plan.||Get a basic landline for alarm monitoring but use VoIP for your home calling needs.||Use regular VoIP for home phone service and use Internet for alarm monitoring.||Use regular VoIP for home phone service and use cellular for alarm monitoring.|
|Basic Landline (pay as you go + no features). Cost based on AT&T landline rates.||$18.25
(plus 4c to 6c per minute)
|Landline (includes unlimited local & long distance).||$43|
|VoIP Service (MFVV support). Cable company, etc. Cost based on AT&T U-verse unlimited||$35
AT&T U-verse unlimited)
|Regular VoIP from Provider such as Phone Power||$5.99||$5.99||$5.99|
|Total Monthly Cost Estimates||$78.99||$70.99||$60.23||$49.98||$53.98|
Note: Costs are for example purposes only and are subject to change by the providers that are offering the above services. Taxes and other fees are not included.
It is worth noting that some cable and Internet providers are now offering a home security product. So pretty soon you will start seeing quadruple play options instead of just the double or triple play packages. Comcast is one provider that has already jumped into this field and started offering a home security solution. So if all in one solutions are something of interest to you, then it might be worth checking out.
Conclusion and Recommendations
While performing this research we evaluated and compared the service plans offered by many different home alarm companies. Thankfully we were focused on the signaling communication, and what challenges it poses for home VoIP services, as opposed to trying to decide which alarm company to use for an alarm system. It gets very confusing, very quickly when you try to compare different options. Our analysis and evaluation has hopefully provided you with some clarity though, and will enable you to quickly eliminate some of the options that you may have been considering. In summary, if we were choosing a solution for a home alarm system, we would definitely be going with a cellular based monitoring service, as it is clearly the most reliable option and the least vulnerable, despite a slightly higher cost. If you go ahead and change over to VoIP for your home phone service, the large cost savings you experience will likely mean that you are paying only a little more per month overall, and now also have a home security system.
Don't forget to perform lots of testing on any new home alarm or if you have added VoIP service to a home that has an existing alarm.