A guide to choosing the best monitored alarm system: an introduction to the different types of alarm monitoring technologies
The world of monitored alarms and alarm monitoring has become increasingly complicated over the years, as technology advances. The following is a good guide to how to choose the best monitored alarm for your circumstances, and a guide to different alarm monitoring options on the market in the UK . . .
What is alarm monitoring?
- Communication type: how the alarm communicates to the 3rd party monitoring service i.e. via the telephone line, GSM mobile phone line or via the internet (commonly known as IP monitoring)
- Response method: how the monitoring service reacts in an alarm activation situation i.e. does it simply automatically call or SMS you, does a human controller call you, is there anything more sophisticated like the ability for immediate two-way communication between the controller and your house (via a speaker / microphone device in the property)
How does alarm monitoring work?
The 3 different alarm communication channels type
- Fixed-line telephone (also known as PSDN): communication via a traditional telephone line
- Mobile phone (also known as GSM): communication via a GSM channel, in the same way a mobile phone communicates
- Internet (also known as IP): communication over IP (internet protocol)
- Benefits: reliable and secure. Fixed-line telephones have a 99.9% up time (i.e. fixed-line telephones rarely fail)
- Challenges: fixed-line telephones are becoming less popular as more people use a mix of mobile phones and the internet. Telephone lines can also be cut by burglars in extreme circumstances.
- Benefits: flexible, as doesn’t rely on a fixed-line telephone. Also less susceptible to ‘line cut’, as operate wirelessly.
- Challenges: comparatively unreliable as relies on reliable mobile phone signal, which can be patchy (have comparatively low ‘up-time’ compared to fixed-line telephones).
- Benefits: easy-to-implement, as can be implemented both via wifi and also via wired-internet
- Challenges: probably the most unreliable communication channel with internet drop-out being comparatively high (especially compared to fixed-line telephones). Reliability is definitely on the up, but today it’s still a question in the context of security. It’s OK if the internet drops out and you can’t access your favourite website, but not so great if the internet drops out when your property’s broken into.
The 3 different Alarm monitoring response types
- Auto-dialler: the most common type of monitoring is ‘auto-dialler response’, where the alarm automatically calls / sends an SMS to you or a key-holder – this provides limited but useful level of response.
- Telephone call-back response: this is a slightly more robust version of monitoring than ‘auto-dialler’ as instead of a bot automatically calling a series of pre-programmed telephone numbers (as in the auto-dialler instance), ‘call back’ monitoring involves a human controller in a monitoring station calling your key contacts in the occurrence of an alarm activation.
- Immediate audio-response: the most sophisticated type is ‘immediate audio-response’ where a speaker/microphone installed the property allows a human controller in the monitoring station to immediately listen and talk into the property and respond appropriately (e.g. call the emergency services if necessary). This is typical in LiveTalk monitoring.
How monitored alarm systems compare
- Positive: low-cost, no on-going monthly monitoring fee
- Negative: low impact / ineffective as people ignore alarm bells ringing in the street
- Positive: low-cost, no on-going monthly monitoring fee
- Negative: limited effectiveness, as the system by its very nature is ‘automatic’ calling a set number of key-holders without any indication whether there could be a false alarm or not (which is very common)
- Positive: provides some level of verification (as involves a real person in a monitoring station)
- Negative: doesn’t provide hugely useful levels of verification, can be be expensive for the service provided
- Positive: provides high-levels of verification and quick response to real emergencies (as the monitoring station can actively listen in and talk into the property)
- Negative: requires a monthly monitoring fee
Benefits of monitored alarms over bells only
What to ask when buying a monitored alarm
- What type of alarm monitoring service it is from a ‘communication perspective’? (i.e. does it work over telephone line, mobile or internet – or all?!)
- How does the alarm monitoring ‘response’ work? (i.e. is it just an auto-dial system, is it a call-back system linked to a monitoring station, or does it have immediate audio-response via a speaker / microphone)
- Is the monitoring system compatible with my existing alarm system? (i.e. can I take my existing alarm system and plug-in a more advanced form of alarm monitoring easily?)
- What work is involved in installing the monitoring equipment? (i.e. does it require wiring into a telephone line or internet cable?)
- How much does the installation cost and what is the monthly ongoing monitoring cost?
- What is the minimum contractual period for the monitoring contract? (N.B. a lot of alarm companies e.g. ADT require a minimum 36 month (3 year) contract. Make sure you know what you’re signing up to)
- Are there any other hidden costs (e.g. premium line call costs for whenever the monitoring system dials out)
- What is the typical response times for the monitoring?
Examples of companies in the UK who sell monitored alarms
Glossary of terminology
- Monitored alarm: an intruder alarm that has ‘alarm monitoring’ integrated in it, allowing the alarm to directly communicate to the outside world via some form of telecommunication device (e.g. telephone line, internet line or mobile phone).
- Digicom: short of ‘digital communicator’ a digicom is the piece of technology that actively dials out to the monitoring station.
- Monitoring station / Monitoring centre: the place in which ‘controllers’ (specially trained people) sit and respond to incoming alarm activations – either calling key holders or emergency services depending on the situation. Monitoring stations are used in the context of ‘call-back’ and ‘immediate audio-response’ monitoring.
- Auto-dialler: the most simple form of ‘digicom’ technology that is connected to an alarm, allowing the alarm to automatically dial out to a number of key holders when the alarm is activated.