More and more of our long-time customers are moving away from traditional phone line (POTS) based communication to our alarm monitoring central station to cellular based signalling. Is it difficult to do myself, and is it expensive? Read on as I explain the basics and how to tackle this inexpensively and relatively easily.
What Is Cellular Based Alarm Monitoring
The majority of existing alarm systems out there are hardwired based systems which have a built-in POTS (Plain Old Telephone System) alarm communicator. A hardwired alarm system means there is a control panel, which is housed in a metal enclosure hidden out of sight, usually in a closet, basement, or garage. The keypad on the wall which you interactive with the system to arm and disarm is just that, merely a keypad. The door, window, motion detectors, smoke detectors, etc. all run back to this control panel via wire cabling.
Land lines in homes are rapidly disappearing because of the high cost to maintain a phone line when frankly everyone in the home has a cell phone in their pocket. For many alarm owners they have kept this obsolete communication medium in their home just for their alarm system. Eliminating the POTS line and switching to celluar monitoring is actually a monthly savings, and increases security.
Phone lines are always at risk of being cut by an intruder before they attempt to break-in to your home. Phone lines also have the added risk of being disabled by weather events such as a down tree taking down the line to your home during a storm or snow blizzard.
Cellular of course has no wires to be cut and is generally powered by your alarm panel which has a backup battery in case of power failure. The increased monthly cost for cellular alarm monitoring compared to POTS is relatively small depending on alarm company. ADT will charge probably the most but online monitoring companies such as SafeHomeCentral only charge $6 more per month for cellular – that’s just $14.95 per month with true UL central station dispatch, not a self-monitoring plan that requires the homeowner to call the police. Pretty sure your land line costs at least 5X that amount per month. Most users save roughly $400 annually just switching to cellular alarm monitoring and ditching their land line. And homeowner insurance carriers love cellular alarm monitoring. Be sure to check what annual premium discount they offer. Most grant a 10%-20% savings.
Check out our detailed post on Home Security System Alarm Monitoring Basics too!
What Is Needed To Switch To Cellular Alarm Monitoring
In order for your alarm system to communicate with a central station via cellular it must have a cellular communicator either built-in, or added on as an external hardware option.
Most professional-grade wireless systems on the market today have optional plugin modules for cellular service. You just pick what carrier (generally either AT&T or Verizon) and slide the card in.
For hardwired systems (the traditional hidden control panel) you simply connect a small add-on cellular communicator to your existing system which replaces the phone line. In fact, your alarm system will still think it has a phone line connected. The new communicator will provide the alarm panel with a dial tone so it can still “dial” the central station. In reality the communicator is reading the alarm signals to be sent (what type of alarm and zone) and transmitting this data to a third party interactive services provider that accepts both cellular and Internet based alarm communications which relays this information almost instantaneously to the central station for alarm dispatch as appropriate.
The add-on cellular communicator is made to work with a particular interactive service provider such as Honeywell AlarmNet, Telguard, Alula/ipDataTel, SecureNet, Alarm.com. What’s nice is not only can you send alarm signals to your central station wirelessly there is usually the option to be able to remote control your alarm system from anywhere you have WIFI or cellular service on your smartphone. What an upgrade!
Installing is pretty simple as long as you have basic hands-on skills meaning you can attach four wires to your alarm panel and mount the unit on the wall next to the control panel. Your alarm monitoring dealer should be able to assist you when tackling this as a DIY project.
What Cellular Communicators Are Best For My Alarm System
If you have a wireless system then only plugin modules made by that manufacturer will work will with your system. Hardwired systems have more flexibility since you only need to match up the communicator with the interactive service provider. Essentially any cellular communicator brand will work with your hardwired system, though certain features may not work with your system unless listed as compatible. For example if you have a Honeywell Vista series hardwired panel (if fairly old may say Ademco which was acquired by Honeywell) or perhaps ADT which private labels Honeywell then their own models will work as well as Telguard, Alula/ipDataTel, DSC, and others should work.
For simple to install and inexpensive with basic features such as cellular replacement for landline is the Telguard TG-1 Express. Very simple to install and most alarm dealers use it for upgrading their landline customers. Generally runs about $150 for DIY purchase. Comes in both AT&T (TG1LAX02) and Verizon (TG1LX001) models.
Another favorite for Honeywell Vista panels (and First Alert) is the LTE-XA (ATT) or LTE-XV (Verizon) and also easy to install and runs about $150. For Vista-15P, Vista-20P, Vista-21iP, or Vista-128BPT models with current firmware ( 9.12 or higher for Vista-15P/20P, 3.13 or higher for Vista-21iP, and all models for Vista-128BPT) you can also use Honeywell’s Total Connect 2 app on your phone to remote control your security system. Very handy.