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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Author: Tony Campbell
Global VoIP Trends in 2014
E911 and VoIP - What You Need To Know
If you have run into some issues with home security systems and VoIP, please share your experience by adding a comment below. Additionally, if you still have questions, we will be happy to make our best attempt at answering them.
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#1 : Posted by Emily Heartwood on June 17th, 2014:
My doubts with using VoIP as part of an alarm system was the power source but this idea (uninterruptable power supply + backup power) sounds good.
I read about a solution where the data is transmitted by PCMA/PCMU packets which guarantees that the DTMF tones will get through. It could solve the second key question on the alarm tones.
What is your opinion on using this software?
-> Response: Thank you for your comments Emily. I looked at the article you sent and it is very interesting. It seems the C program is essentially sending a digitized G.711 sample through to the alarm central station so I could see this working. The only issues I see are as follows:
1. This C code needs to be integrated within your alarm system.
2. The ATA device often only has 1 Ethernet port so this could be problematic for your network and alarm system i.e. need additional switches/routers etc.
3. This has been tested with one specific ATA (SPA3102) which likely is not supported by all VoIP providers so care must be taken in the selection process.